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Asthma affects millions of Americans. It is a condition causing your airways to narrow and swell producing extra mucus. This can make breathing difficult and trigger coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath. Asthma symptoms may vary from mild to severe.


Asthma has many causes that are different for each person. Learning more about what triggers your asthma can help you reduce the chances of having an asthma attack.

  • Airborne substances, such as pollen, dust mites, mold spores, pet dander or particles of cockroach waste
  • Respiratory infections, such as the common cold
  • Physical activity (exercise-induced asthma)
  • Cold air
  • Air pollutants and irritants, such as smoke
  • Certain medications, including beta blockers, aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) and naproxen (Aleve)
  • Strong emotions and stress
  • Sulfites and preservatives added to some types of foods and beverages, including shrimp, dried fruit, processed potatoes, beer and wine
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), a condition in which stomach acids back up into your throat


  • Having a blood relative (such as a parent or sibling) with asthma
  • Having another allergic condition, such as atopic dermatitis or allergic rhinitis (hay fever)
  • Being overweight
  • Being a smoker
  • Exposure to secondhand smoke
  • Exposure to exhaust fumes or other types of pollution
  • Exposure to occupational triggers, such as chemicals used in farming, hairdressing and manufacturing


  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest tightness or pain
  • Trouble sleeping caused by shortness of breath, coughing or wheezing
  • A whistling or wheezing sound when exhaling (wheezing is a common sign of asthma in children)
  • Coughing or wheezing attacks that are worsened by a respiratory virus, such as a cold or the flu


The most important of being diagnosed is to talk openly with your doctor about your symptoms and triggers. Your doctor may do a physical exam, lab tests, chest x-ray, and possibly refer you for lung function test.


Your doctor may prescribe oral medications and/or inhalers. He may also prescribe a nebulizer.

Management and Treatment

Managing Your Condition

  • Take your medication as prescribed.
  • Keeping an asthma diary can help you recognize asthma attacks and learn how to avoid triggers. This is especially important if you are newly diagnosed.
  • If you smoke, quit.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. Eat plenty of foods with vitamins C and E and omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Find an activity or exercise that you like.

Asthma Action Plan

Additional resources