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Asthma

Asthma is a chronic lung disease that makes it hard to breathe. It can affect children and adults. Asthma symptoms include coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, and chest tightness. During an asthma episode or attack, the airways in your lungs get swollen. Your chest feels tight. You may cough, wheeze, or have trouble breathing. This happens when your lungs are exposed to something—a trigger. The swelling in your lungs can be occurring slowly, even if you don't realize it.

Have a Plan to Control Asthma

Asthma is not under control if attacks happen often. The best way to take charge of asthma is to work with your health care provider to find the right daily medicine. People can die of asthma if it is not controlled properly. Your plan to control asthma should include: 

How to use asthma medicine properly+

Controller medicines can be used to prevent attacks in people with persistent asthma. You have persistent asthma if you have daytime symptoms more than 2 times a week or nighttime symptoms more than two times a month.

  • Controllers must be taken every day, even when you feel well.
  • Inhaled corticosteroids are not the same as anabolic steroids, which some people use to unsafely build muscles.

Quick-relief medicines can be used to relieve symptoms:

  • Unlike controllers, quick-relief medicines don’t prevent attacks.
  • Carry quick-relief medicine all the time in case of an emergency.

Spacers are important:

Many asthma medicines are inhaled. If you use a metered dose inhaler or pump, be sure to use a spacer. This helps to get the right amount of medicine directly to your lungs. Follow your doctor’s instructions for administering medicine and avoid things that can make asthma symptoms worse. Visit Managing Asthma: Checklist for Doctor Visits for more information.

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How to avoid asthma triggers+

Be aware of the things in your environment that can cause asthma attacks or make symptoms worse. These “triggers” are different for everyone and can exist inside or outside of your home. Common triggers include:

Location Triggers What you can do

Outdoors

  • Check the weather report daily for:
    • Extreme temperatures
    • Air pollution level (called "air quality index")
    • Pollen counts
  • Limit outside time and heavy exercise on extremely hot or cold days or when air pollution levels or pollen counts are high
  • Keep windows closed during pollen seasons and use air conditioning if possible.

Outdoors and Indoors

  • Cold and flu viruses

Indoors

  • Dust
  • Tobacco smoke
  • Pet dander
  • Mold and mildew
  • Chemicals with strong smells often found in cleaning products paint, or deodorizers
  • Pests like cockroaches, mice and rats
  • Reduce dust by removing clutter and cleaning regularly.
  • Don’t allow smoking inside the home or car. Try to quit smoking entirely.
  • Don’t allow furry pets on furniture or in room(s) where children with asthma sleep.
  • Prevent mold growth by avoiding moisture. Fix leaks and remove standing water as soon as possible.
  • Avoid using chemicals with strong smells. If you must use them, use the smallest amount possible and open windows or use fans to dispel odors.
  • Pest proof the home
  • Learn more about Childhood Asthma and Environmental Triggers (PDF)
    Other languages: [Español][Русский]

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How to respond to symptoms and attacks+

You can avoid asthma attacks with proper management, including daily medicine. However, if an attack happens, be prepared to use quick relief medicine and to know when to seek medical treatment.

Many people use their quick-relief medicine too often.

  • Do you use your quick-relief medicine every single day to stop an asthma episode?
  • Do you need it more than four times in one day to stop asthma episodes?

If you said "yes" to either question, then you are having too many asthma episodes. Your quick-relief medicine may make you feel better for a little while, but it does not mean you are getting better. In fact, the airways in your lungs are getting more and more swollen, and you are in danger of having a serious asthma episode.

Ask your doctor for a preventive medicine that will help stop the swelling in your airways to avoid asthma episodes.

 

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How to manage your child’s asthma during school+

Ask your doctor to fill out an Asthma Medication Administration Form (PDF) [Español] and give it to your child’s school nurse. Fill out a new form at the beginning of every school year. Tell family members, school nurses and other caregivers how to manage your child’s asthma when you are not around and what to do in the event of an attack.

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Lead an Active Life with Asthma

Asthma does not have to prevent you or your child from leading an active and healthy life. When asthma is under control, you or your child can:

  • Participate fully in sports and other physical activities
  • Attend school or go to work
  • Sleep through the night
  • Avoid severe asthma symptoms
  • Avoid going to the emergency room or being hospitalized because of asthma

Asthma Action Kit+

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More Asthma Resources