More Information About Asthma

What is asthma?

Asthma is a chronic lung disease characterized by inflammation of the bronchial tubes, which makes them swell and narrows the airways. Asthma often begins in childhood, but symptoms can occur at any age. Asthma affects more than 20 million people in the United States, and is the most common chronic childhood disease.

What causes asthma?

Susceptibility to asthma is hereditary. Asthma attacks can be triggered by a wide range of factors, including: strenuous exercise; environmental allergens such as pollen, dust and mold; cold air; emotional stress; viral infections and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

What are the symptoms?

People with asthma experience sudden attacks of labored breathing, chest congestion, coughing and wheezing.

What are the treatments for asthma?

Asthma symptoms can be controlled with two types of medication:

  • Long-term controllers, which help prevent and reduce inflammation in the airways and are usually taken on a daily basis. They include:
    • Inhaled corticosteroids, which have a relatively low risk and are the most commonly prescribed long-term medication.
    • Leukotriene modifiers (oral) help prevent asthma symptoms by decreasing the production of leukotrienes. Long-acting beta agonists, (inhaled) which help control daily symptoms, including nighttime asthma. LABAs may increase your risk of having a severe asthma attack and should only be taken with an inhaled corticosteroid.
    • Combined inhalers, which contain a LABA along with a corticosteroid.
    • Theophylline, which is a daily pill that helps make breathing easier (bronchodilator).
  • Quick relievers or rescue medications are used to ease the wheezing, coughing and tightness of the chest that occurs during an asthma attack. Quick relievers provide short-term symptom relief and should not be taken more than twice a week. They include:
    • Short- acting beta agonists, (inhaled bronchodilator) which relieve asthma symptoms within minutes. Some prevent asthma caused by exercise.
    • Ipratropium (Atrovent), which opens the airways by relaxing the muscles around the airways (bronchodilator). Mostly commonly used for emphysema and chronic bronchitis.
    • Oral and intravenous corticosteroids are used to relieve severe asthma symptoms. These medications can cause serious side effects if used on a long-term basis therefore should only be used short term.

Asthma treatment also includes learning to recognize and avoid your asthma triggers.

To control allergy-induced asthma symptoms, allergy treatments such as immunotherapy (allergy shots), Omalizumab (Xolair) and nasal sprays are often used.

Can asthma be prevented?

While the predisposition to asthma is genetic and cannot be prevented, people with asthma can take the following steps to manage their condition and reduce the likelihood of an asthma attack:

  • Identify and minimize contact with asthma triggers
  • Take medications as prescribed
  • Monitor symptoms and recognize signs that it may be worsening
  • Know what to do when asthma symptoms worsen

Who is at risk?

Anyone who has a parent or sibling with asthma is at risk. Other risk factors include: allergies; obesity; smoking, exposure to second-hand smoke, exhaust fumes or other environmental pollutants; and having a mother who smoked while pregnant.

To find out more about asthma:

American Lung Association:

Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America:

The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology:

American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology: