Asthma is a chronic lung disease that causes the airways to become inflamed & narrow. Symptoms of an asthma attack can include coughing, wheezing (a whistling sound when you breathe), chest tightness & shortness of breath. Many other conditions can have the same symptoms, so it is important to check with your doctor to be sure of the diagnosis.

Nearly 25 million people in the U.S. (about 7.8 percent of the population) have asthma, according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention.

There’s no cure for asthma, &, in most cases, we don’t know what causes it. We do know people living with asthma can reduce the number & severity of their asthma attacks. Patients can better manage their asthma by working with their health care professionals — including an allergist or pulmonologist (lung specialist) if needed — to develop an asthma action plan.

Not everyone with asthma has the same symptoms or can take the same medicine. Putting an action plan in place can help patients understand their asthma triggers & ensure they have the medications they need to reduce the number & severity of asthma attacks. The plan should include information on how to take these medicines, when to take them, & what to do if symptoms get worse.

Recognize Your Asthma Triggers

An important component to any asthma action plan is identifying your asthma triggers – things that can make asthma worse. Triggers can be different for everyone. Knowing what your triggers are & learning how to avoid them can help you prevent an asthma attack.

The most common triggers include:

  • Tobacco smoke
  • Dust mites
  • Air pollution
  • Cockroaches
  • Pet dander
  • Plant pollen
  • Mold
  • Infections
  • Exercise
  • Strong scents (such as perfumes)

Talk to your health care professional about what triggers your asthma, & when possible, consider how you can avoid them or prepare for them.

Treat Asthma with the Right Medication

Left untreated, asthma can cause long-term lung damage & life-threatening attacks that may require emergency care or hospitalization. Patients should work with their health care professional to discuss proper asthma treatments, which may include medications & how to safely take them.

The U.S. Food & Drug Administration has approved many prescription asthma treatments. Because asthma symptoms can vary from person to person, not every medicine is right for every patient.

There are two types of prescription asthma medicines: quick-relief & long-term control.

Quick-relief or rescue medicines control the symptoms of an asthma attack by opening up the airways in the lungs. One example is albuterol. The FDA has also approved Airsupra inhalation aerosol, which combines albuterol & budesonide (a corticosteroid) to treat asthma as-needed & to reduce the risk of severe asthma attacks in people age 18 & older.

Long-term control medicines help you have fewer & milder attacks, although they won’t help you during an asthma attack. These treatments include inhaled corticosteroids & biologics (e.g. monoclonal antibodies) that, with regular treatment, help improve lung function & prevent symptoms & flare-ups, reducing the need for rescue medications.

There are nonprescription (also called over-the-counter, or OTC) drugs to treat symptoms of mild, intermittent asthma. However, a nonprescription product is not right for everyone with asthma, & it should not be used without first consulting your health care professional to get a proper diagnosis & treatment plan.

Some asthma products are labeled as homeopathic & sold as nonprescription, but these have not been evaluated by the FDA for safety & effectiveness. The FDA has warned consumers not to rely on these homeopathic products for managing their asthma.

If asthma is not appropriately treated & managed, you may have wheezing, shortness of breath, & coughing. You also could be at risk for life-threatening asthma attacks that may require emergency care or hospitalization. For those reasons, you should not take any medication to treat asthma without consulting your health care professional.