Asthma: Symptoms, Causes, Treatment and More


Asthma is an inflammatory condition of the airways and the lungs. Asthma makes breathing difficult due to the narrowing or swelling of airways or excessive mucus blockage.

Asthma is a long-term (chronic) condition that affects children and adults. It is often underdiagnosed and under-treated.

Types Of Asthma 

Based on the causes and the severity of symptoms, doctors identify asthma as:

Intermittent: A type of asthma that comes and goes so that you can feel normal in between asthma flares.

Persistent: In this type, you have asthma symptoms much of the time. Symptoms can be either mild, moderate, or severe.

The severity of asthma is based on how often you have symptoms and how well you can do things during an attack.

When you have asthma for the first time after the age of 18, it is called adult-onset, whereas if you have asthma before the age of 5, it is called pediatric onset.

Other types of asthma include: 

Exercise-induced asthma: In this type of asthma triggered by exercise 

Occupational asthma: This type of asthma happens in people who work around irritating or allergic substances that trigger asthma.

Allergy-induced asthma: A type of asthma triggered by airborne substances such as pollen or particles of skin or hair shed by pets (pet dander) etc.

Asthma-COPD overlap syndrome (ACOS): A type that happens when you have both asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which makes breathing difficult.

Asthma symptoms

Asthma signs and symptoms include:  

  • Shortness of breath  
  • Chest tightness, pain, or pressure  
  • Wheezing   
  • Trouble sleeping   
  • Coughing   
  • Rapid breathing  
  • Anxiousness or panic  

Causes of Asthma

Most of the time, asthma is due to the combination of environmental and inherited (genetic) factors. Some of the causes include:

  • Genes (inheritance, family history)
  • Exposure to asthma triggers (pollen, dust mites, pet danger, etc.)
  • Respiratory infections (common cold, flu)
  • Physical activity
  • Cold air
  • Air pollutants (Dust, smoke)
  • Certain medications (beta blockers, aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen, etc.)
  • Strong emotions and stress
  • Food additives (Sulfites and preservatives added to some types of foods and beverages)
  • Heartburn disease (Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), a condition in which stomach acids back up into your throat)

Risk factors Of Asthma

Several factors can increase the chances of worsening or developing asthma. They include:

  • Family history: Having a blood relative, such as parents or siblings, with asthma
  • Other medical conditions that trigger asthma (atopic dermatitis)
  • Being overweight
  • Smoking or being exposed to secondhand smoke
  • Exposure to pollution
  • Exposure to occupational triggers (chemicals used in farming, hairdressing, and manufacturing)

How do healthcare providers diagnose asthma?

Physical examination:

Your doctor will review your medical and family history, which includes information about your parents and siblings and other health conditions and medication you are currently using. The doctor will ask about your symptoms and any history of allergies, eczema, and other lung diseases.

Tests to diagnose asthma include:

  • Lung function tests (spirometry and peak flow test) These tests measure airflow through your lungs and are used to diagnose and monitor your treatment progress.
  • Chest X-ray
  • A blood test or sputum or skin test to rule out allergies and infections

How Is Asthma Treated and Managed?

Your doctor will prescribe certain medications to control the symptoms of asthma. These include:

Bronchodilators: The medicines that relax the muscles around the airways and help with breathing.

Anti-inflammatory medicines: These medicines reduce swelling and mucus production in the airways.

Biologic therapies for asthma: When symptoms persist despite proper inhaler therapy, this treatment is used.

Asthma medicines can be taken in different ways:

  • Oral medicine (tablets, capsules) that you can swallow
  • Inhalation medicines that you can breathe in the medicines with the help of a metered-dose inhaler, nebulizer, or another type of asthma inhaler.

Complications of Asthma

Proper treatment and treatment adherence helps in preventing both short-term and long-term complications caused by asthma.

Long-term or untreated asthma can lead to 

  • Permanent narrowing of the bronchial tubes (tubes that carry air to and from your lungs)
  • Side effects from long-term use of asthma medications 
  • Emergency visits to hospitals and increased hospitalizations for severe asthma attacks 
  • Signs and symptoms of asthma that interfere with daily activities and affect the quality of life 

Can I Prevent Asthma?

No! There is no way to prevent asthma; however, certain measures can help you prevent asthma attacks.

  • Follow your asthma action plan designed by your doctor and health care team
  • Regular monitoring and treatment of the condition.
  • Get vaccinated for influenza and pneumonia 
  • Identify and avoid asthma triggers
  • Monitor your breathing
  • Identify and treat attacks early
  • Take your medication as prescribed

Work with your doctor to develop an asthma action plan. This plan tells you how and when to use your medicines. The asthma action plan also tells you what to do based on your asthma symptoms and when to seek emergency care.