What is asthma?

Asthma is a serious, sometimes life-threatening chronic respiratory disease that affects the quality of life for almost 24 million Americans, including an estimated 6 million children. Although there is no cure for asthma yet, asthma can be controlled through medical treatment and management of environmental triggers.

Who  is at risk for asthma?

Asthma affects people of all ages, but symptoms usually start during childhood. There are 25 million people with asthma in the United States, 7 million of whom are children. Asthma is common among children and teens; about three students in an average classroom of 30 have asthma.  Asthma is the most common chronic health problem in children. Children who have asthma have increased emergency room usage and hospitalizations for respiratory problems. Asthma occurs because of a combination of family history and your surrounding environment.  Unfortunately, there is no cure for asthma. Once you have asthma, you will have the disease for the rest of your life. But with proper care, you can lead a healthy, productive, fully active life.

How is asthma diagnosed?

Asthma can be hard to diagnose, especially in children under 5 years of age. Regular physical checkups that include checking your lung function and checking for allergies can help your healthcare provider make the right diagnosis. During a checkup, the health-care provider will ask you questions about whether you cough a lot, especially at night, and whether your breathing problems are worse after physical activity or during a particular time of year. Health-care providers will also ask about other symptoms such as chest tightness, wheezing, and colds that last more than 10 days. They will ask you whether your family members have or have had asthma, allergies, or other breathing problems, and they will ask you questions about your home. The health care provider will also ask you about missing school or work and about any trouble you may have doing certain activities. A lung function test, called spirometry (spy-rom-e-tree), is another way to diagnose asthma. A spirometer (spy-rom-e-ter) measures the largest amount of air you can exhale, or breathe out, after taking a very deep breath. The spirometer can measure airflow before and after you use asthma medicine.

What are some asthma triggers?

Older and distressed homes are more likely to contain asthma triggers, many of which can be repaired or eliminated through simple changes.

Common triggers found in many homes include:

  • Dust and dust mites
  • Animal dander
  • Cockroachescandle-1537873
  • Mold and moisture
  • Cigarette smoke
  • Fragrances, including air fresheners
  • Cleaning products


Other less common triggers are:

Strenuous physical exercise

  • Some medicines
  • Bad weather such as thunderstorms
  • High humidity
  • Freezing temperatures
  • Some foods and food additives can trigger an asthma attack
  • Strong emotional states can also lead to hyperventilation and an asthma attack

What are asthma symptoms?

Common asthma symptoms include: wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, and asthma attacks.

How is asthma treated?

You can control your asthma and avoid an attack by taking your medicine exactly as your doctor or other medical professional tells you to do and by avoiding things that can cause an attack.

Not everyone with asthma takes the same medicine. Some medicines can be inhaled, or breathed in, and some can be taken as a pill. Asthma medicines come in two types—quick relief and long-term control. Quick-relief medicines control the symptoms of an asthma attack. If you need to use your quick-relief medicines more and more, you should visit your doctor or other medical professional to see if you need a different medicine. Long-term control medicines help you have fewer and milder attacks, but they don’t help you if you’re having an asthma attack.



Asthma medicines can have side effects, but most side effects are mild and soon go away. Ask your doctor or other medical professional about the side effects of your medicines.

The important thing to remember is that you can control your asthma. With your doctor’s or other medical professional’s help, make your own asthma action plan (management plan) so that you know what to do based on your own symptoms. Decide who should have a copy of your plan and where he or she should keep it.

You can learn more about asthma action plans from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Take your long-term control medicine even when you don’t have symptoms.

The above text is from the “You Can Control Your Asthma”[PDF – 4074 KB] full-color brochure and is suitable for downloading and printing.


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