Asthma health facts
- Asthma is a chronic condition that causes spasms, swelling and inflammation in a person’s lungs and airways.
- This condition can make it difficult for a person to breathe. Other symptoms often include wheezing, coughing or build-up of mucus in the throat.
- Depending on the type of asthma a person has, treatments typically include quick-acting treatments for sudden symptoms, such as rescue inhalers (also called quick-relief inhalers), and long-term medications, like corticosteroids.
- Treatments help by relaxing muscles in the mouth and throat and by reducing mucus in the lungs.
- An asthma attack is when a person’s symptoms suddenly worsen. Environmental factors or activities are usually the cause. We recommend that a person experiencing an asthma attack that does not respond to treatment with an inhaler contact 911.
What is asthma?
Asthma occurs when the airways narrow, swell and produce mucus, making breathing difficult and causing coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath. It can be caused by exercising, especially in cold, dry air, or by environmental irritants such as pollen, mold and workplace chemicals.
Doctors categorize asthma by severity and persistency:
- Mild intermittent asthma causes daytime symptoms twice a week or less and nighttime symptoms twice a month or less. A person with mild intermittent asthma rarely has asthma attacks.
- Mild persistent asthma causes daytime symptoms three to six times a week and nighttime symptoms three to four times a month. A person with mild persistent asthma has asthma attacks that may interfere with daily activities.
- Moderate persistent asthma causes daily symptoms and symptoms at night several times a week. Asthma attacks may disrupt normal activities or make it hard to sleep.
- Severe persistent asthma causes ongoing symptoms both day and night. These symptoms routinely interrupt daily life.
Treatments for asthma
Asthma can’t be cured, but we help our patients manage symptoms with various long-term control medications. Treatment can often lessen symptoms over time. Common long-term treatments include the following:
- Inhaled corticosteroids.
- Leukotriene modifiers.
- Long-acting beta agonists (LABAs).
- Medications that contain both a corticosteroid and a LABA.
In addition, most people with asthma have a treatment for sudden, severe symptoms (also called an asthma attack.) These are called rescue medications and are only used to prevent or treat an asthma attack. Medications are delivered via an inhaler, which allows a person to easily inhale a dose of the medication as needed. Inhalers used for asthma attacks are called rescue inhalers or quick-relief inhalers.
What causes asthma?
The exact cause of asthma is unknown. But it could have to do with a combination of genetics and environmental factors. Common factors that trigger asthma symptoms are listed below.
- Seasonal pollen, dust, mold spores and pet dander.
- Respiratory infections like a cold.
- Tobacco smoke.
- Weather changes.
- Physical activity (exercise-induced asthma).
- Cold, dry air.
- Air pollution and smoke.
- Stress and strong emotions such as anxiety, laughter and crying.
- Some food preservatives found in shrimp, dried fruit, beer and wine.
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) causes stomach acid to back up into the throat and may cause asthma symptoms.
Symptoms of an asthma attack
Asthma attacks can be scary and life threatening. It is important for patients to discuss all symptoms and their severity with a medical provider so that the patient knows when emergency treatment is needed.
Signs of an asthma emergency include:
- Rapidly deteriorating shortness of breath and wheezing.
- No improvement in poor breathing even after use of a rescue inhaler such as albuterol.
- Shortness of breath or struggling to catch breath during minimal physical activity.
If experiencing an asthma attack, call 911.