Asthma is a disease that causes inflammation and swelling in a person’s airway. This leads to narrowing of the airway, making it hard to breathe.

Over 300 million people around the world have asthma. That number includes 25 million Americans. While there is no cure for asthma, taking your medicine the way you talked about with your primary care provider (PCP) and staying away from things that can cause an attack will help control your asthma.

What causes asthma

You are more likely to have asthma if someone in your immediate family has it. People in the same family may also have asthma (and other shared health problems) because they share a home and are exposed to the same environmental “triggers”. Asthma triggers are often particles that people breathe in or foods they eat. Not all people with asthma are affected by the same triggers.

Some common asthma triggers are:

Some people are exposed to asthma-causing triggers in their workplace. This is called occupational asthma. Irritants such as wood dust or chemicals can be asthma triggers. That is true whether someone is exposed to high levels during a short period or lower levels over a long period.   

Exercise can also be an asthma trigger, and for some people overexertion can trigger an asthma attack, mainly in cold and dry weather. Still, getting regular physical activity also strengthens your lungs, which helps you manage asthma. Talk with your PCP if exercise is a trigger for you.

Asthma symptoms

Some common asthma symptoms are:

How asthma is diagnosed

If you think that you may have asthma, talk to your PCP about your symptoms. Your PCP can review your medical history and check for signs and symptoms for asthma or other health problems related to your airway and breathing. Your PCP may ask you questions like:

  • Do you cough a lot, especially at night?
  • How often have you had shortness of breath, chest tightness, wheezing or coughing in the last four weeks?
  • Do any of your family members have asthma, allergies or trouble breathing?
  • Have you missed school or work due to breathing problems?
  • Is it hard for you to do any physical activities?