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General Information:
Asthma affects 20.3 million Americans. The exact cause of asthma is not known but some people are more at risk than others.

Who is at risk for asthma?
Asthma risk factors include:

  • Having allergies
  • A family history of allergies or asthma
  • Living in a large urban area, especially the inner city
  • Breathing in cigarette smoke (including second-hand smoke)
  • Exposure to chemicals used in farming and hairdressing, and in paint, steel, plastics and electronics manufacturing
  • Respiratory infections in childhood
  • Low birth weight
  • Being overweight

Asthma Symptoms:
Asthma is a chronic lung disease that causes walls of the air tubes (airways) to swell (inflame).  Swelling in the walls of the air tubes cause the inside opening to be smaller. Small air tubes make breathing more difficult. Mucous also builds up in the air tubes slowing air flow even more. This can cause shortness of breath, coughing, chest tightness, wheezing or fatigue.

Diagnosing Asthma:
Many conditions can mimic asthma; therefore it should not be diagnosed based on symptoms alone. It is important for your provider to obtain a careful history of your asthma symptoms, triggers and other medical conditions. Your provider should also perform a physical exam and breathing tests to help make or confirm the diagnosis of asthma. If you are experiencing allergies, sinus problems, acid reflux or other problems which aggravate your breathing, other tests and treatments are needed.  

Asthma Attack:
Asthma can get suddenly worse. Exposure to “triggers” can cause sudden swelling inside the air tubes and muscle tightness around the breathing tubes – known as bronchoconstriction or an “asthma attack”. Death can occur during an asthma attack if not treated quickly. Prevention of asthma attacks is best. This can be done by “controlling” the swelling and inflammation in the air tubes and avoiding known triggers. 

Asthma medicines:
There are 2 main types of asthma medicines. “Rescue or Quick Relief” medicine opens the air tubes fast. Rescue medicine is only used during breathing symptoms or to prevent breathing symptoms during exercise. All people with asthma should have a rescue medicine to use when they need it. Rescue medicine does not treat inflammation in the air tubes, it only gives temporary help. If your asthma bothers you more than twice a week during the day or twice a month at night, you may need a “controller” medicine. Controller medicine treats the swelling and inflammation in the air tubes. It must be taken every day to control the inflammation and help prevent asthma attacks. Do not stop taking your controller medicine without talking to your provider.

Inhaler and nebulizer handouts: http://chestnet.org/patients/guides/inhaledDevices.php

Common Asthma Triggers:
“Triggers” cause asthma to get worse. Common triggers include: 
• Infections caused by viruses or bacteria
Exercise especially in cool or dry air
• Irritants such as smoke, fumes and pollution
• Intense emotions such as laughing or crying
• Hormonal changes such as pregnancy or monthly menstral cycle
• Sudden changes in weather or air temperature
• Allergens like pollen, mold, foods or animals
• Medicines such as aspirin or anti-inflammatory medicines

Informational Handouts:

College Students

Other helpful web sites for information on asthma: