Asthma is a chronic condition of the respiratory system characterized by inflammation of the airways. Nearly 20 million Americans suffer from the disorder, according to the American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology.

Asthma attacks can range from mild to life-threatening and are usually accompanied by coughing, wheezing, and breathlessness. They are triggered by various allergens, pollution, or even physical activity. The severity and frequency of the attacks determine how carefully the condition needs to be managed and the most effective treatment methods.

Asthma does not go away over time, though it is common for patients to have long periods of remission without any symptoms. Even if attacks are rare, not treating asthma could potentially lead to permanently damaged airways and lungs; therefore, it is critical to monitor your symptoms and take the necessary precautions.

Recognizing an Attack

Becoming familiar with the warning signs of an oncoming asthma attack can help prevent it—or, at the very least, decrease the severity. These warning signs can also serve as symptoms for those who have yet to be diagnosed. They include, but are not limited to:

  • Coughing that seems to worsen early in the morning and at night
  • Chest tightness
  • Wheezing
  • Rapid breathing
  • Breathlessness

Asthma Triggers

Triggers are elements in the environment that cause the airways to inflame, consequently causing or exacerbating asthma attacks. Some of the most common triggers include mold, pollen, dust mites, cigarette smoke, stress, strongly scented products, cold weather, and certain medications.

Eliminating or strictly limiting your exposure to these irritants can help to decrease the frequency and severity of your attacks. Although many environmental factors, such as weather and pollution, are out of your control, consistently and thoroughly cleaning your home to get rid of mold and dust mites can have positive impacts. Not smoking and avoiding cigarette smoke as much as possible will also help prevent or reduce the severity of attacks.

Managing Asthma

Although controlling environmental factors is helpful to those with asthma, it is often not enough. Each year, about 450,000 people are admitted the emergency room due to an asthma attack, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. And roughly 4,000 people die annually because of asthma.

According to the American Lung Association, inhaled prescription medications, oral steroids, injections, or a combination of these medications may be necessary to manage the condition, depending on its severity. The most common ingredients in asthma medications are steroids and other anti-inflammatory drugs that help reduce swelling of the airways. These treatments are frequently administered through inhalers, which deliver the medication directly to the airways.