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Health Information Center


  • Cynthia M. Johnson, MA
Publication Type:




Asthma is a long-lasting health problem. It is a change in how the lining of the airways of the lungs work. Asthma makes the airways narrow and makes it hard to breathe.

Treatment can help manage the condition.

Inflamed Bronchus in the Lungs.

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The exact cause of asthma is not known. It is likely a mix of genetics and the environment.

Some things trigger symptoms in people with asthma. Examples are pollen, mold, pet dander, and exercise. It causes a reaction that makes it hard to breathe.

Risk Factors

Things that may raise the risk of asthma are:

  • A family member who has asthma
  • Having allergies
  • Health problems, such as seasonal allergies or obesity
  • Having a job in farming, painting, or cleaning
  • Regular exposure to cigarette smoke , including other people's smoke
  • Taking certain medicines, such as aspirin


Some people may have mild asthma with few flare-ups. Others may have a severe asthma all the time. Symptoms may be:

  • Cough
  • A tight feeling in the chest
  • Wheezing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Problems breathing
  • Feeling tired
  • Problems sleeping
  • Having a hard time exercising


The doctor will ask about symptoms and past health. A physical exam will be done.

A spirometry test will be done to measure how much air is breathed in and out. It can also find out the amount and rate of air that can pass through airways.

This is often enough to diagnose asthma.


An asthma action plan will be made. The goal of the plan is to lower the risk of asthma attacks. A second goal is to manage attacks and ease breathing. Medicine and lifestyle changes will be a part of the plan.

Fast-acting medicine is used to treat an attack. It can help to quickly open the airways and ease breathing. Fast acting medicine may include:

  • Inhaled quick-acting beta agonists and anticholinergic agents—to open the airways
  • Corticosteroids pills—to reduce severe swelling

Long term controller medicines are taken on a regular basis. They can prevent asthma attacks from starting. They cannot treat asthma attacks once the attack starts. Not everyone with asthma will need this type of medicine. Long term controller medicines are:

  • Inhaled corticosteroids—to prevent airway swelling
  • Inhaled long-acting beta agonists—to keep airways relaxed
  • Oral leukotriene modifiers—to prevent airway swelling, ease mucus, and open the airways
  • Biologic agents—if asthma is not controlled by other medicine
  • Allergy shots—to reduce the body's reaction to allergens

Healthy habits may help to manage asthma. They may include:

  • Reducing exposure to triggers
  • Getting enough exercise
  • Staying at a healthy weight
  • Not smoking

The doctor may also advise counseling—to help with coping and managing asthma.

Bronchial thermoplasty may be done for people with severe asthma. This procedure uses a scope to remove excess muscle around the airway. It will help keep the airway open during an attack.


Asthma cannot be prevented.





  • Asthma exacerbation in adults and adolescents. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/asthma-exacerbation-in-adults-and-adolescents.
  • Asthma in adults and adolescents. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/asthma-in-adults-and-adolescents.
  • Asthma stepwise management in adults and adolescents. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/management/asthma-stepwise-management-in-adults-and-adolescents.
  • Global Initiative for Asthma (GINA) global strategy for asthma management and prevention. (GINA 2022)


  • April Scott, NP
Last Updated:

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.