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Asthma is a lifelong condition that can make it hard to breathe. It causes the airways that lead to the lungs to swell and get inflamed.
Some people have a hard time breathing only at certain times. This may be during allergy season, when they get a cold, or when they exercise. Others have breathing problems a lot of the time.
When asthma symptoms suddenly get worse (or flare up), the airways tighten and become narrower. This makes it hard to breathe, and you may wheeze or cough. These flare-ups are also called asthma attacks or exacerbations (say "ig-ZAS-ur-BAY-shuns").
Even though asthma is a lifelong condition, treatment can help you feel and breathe better and help keep your lungs healthy.
When you have asthma, you may:
Symptoms may start soon after you're around things (triggers) that cause your asthma attacks. This is an early phase response. Or they may start several hours after exposure (late phase response). A late phase response can make it harder to figure out what triggers your symptoms.
Symptoms can be mild or severe. You may have symptoms daily or just now and then. Or you may have something in between.
Some people have symptoms that get worse at night, such as a cough and shortness of breath.
Asthma is treated with medicine to help you breathe easier, along with self-care.
Medicines used to treat asthma include:
This medicine prevents asthma attacks. It helps stop problems before they happen. It also reduces inflammation in your lungs. These things help you control your asthma. A daily controller medicine isn't used to treat an asthma attack because it works too slowly.
This medicine is for times when you can't prevent symptoms and need to treat them fast. It helps relax the airways and allows you to breathe easier. You use them only when you need to.
These medicines get your asthma under control before you start to take daily medicine. You may also need them to treat asthma attacks.
Treatment also includes things you can do to control your symptoms, like avoiding your triggers and following your asthma action plan.
There's no certain way to prevent asthma. But you can reduce your risk of asthma attacks by avoiding things that cause them. And using your asthma controller medicine helps prevent them.
The goal is to reduce how many attacks you have, how long they last, and how bad they get.
Start by avoiding your asthma triggers. For example:
Also be sure to:
Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.
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Current as of: February 24, 2020
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine & Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine & Elizabeth T. Russo MD - Internal Medicine
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