A woman breathing through an asthma inhaler.

What is Asthma?

Asthma is a chronic condition, meaning that symptoms change over time and have various triggers. But there are different treatments available to help manage symptoms.

The condition causes inflammation and narrowing of the bronchial tubes, which causes breathing difficulties. It can be scary when experiencing an asthma attack; having treatments readily available helps, and will allow your breathing to go back to normal.

What Causes Asthma?

Asthma typically occurs when a person has a sensitive airway. This means that when they breathe in certain substances or come into contact with certain foods or medications, their bronchial tubes may constrict, causing an asthma attack.

Asthma triggers can vary between individuals, but there are common triggers that affect the majority of people with asthma. Some of these include:

  • Environmental allergens (pollens, dust mites, pet dander and/or mold spores).
  • Strong odors, such as perfumes, paints and cleaning supplies.
  • Tobacco smoke.
  • Medications (for example, aspirin-sensitive asthma).
  • Illness, such as a cold or influenza.
  • Exercise.
  • Stress.
  • Weather (for example, very humid or very dry air).

As you can see from the triggers listed above, allergenic triggers sometimes cause asthma, and sometimes they don’t. Asthma is considered allergic or non-allergic, based on the type of triggers that cause the asthma exacerbation.

Regardless of what type of asthma you have, if you note that you are sensitive to a trigger, it is recommended that you avoid that trigger if possible.

Symptoms of Asthma

Asthma symptoms are fairly universal, regardless of whether your asthma is allergic or non-allergic asthma. Sometimes asthma is not easily diagnosed if symptoms are not severe, as one of the most common symptoms is coughing.

Other symptoms include:

  • Breathing difficulties.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Wheezing with respiration.
  • Chest tightness.

For children, symptoms are similar. However, you may also notice rapid breathing and frequent upper respiratory infections.

Asthma Treatment

The good thing is that there are many ways to treat asthma, from daily inhalers to rescue inhalers, to oral medications, to self-care remedies. Below, we’ve outlined some of your options.

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Quick-Acting Medications

Quick-acting medications should be taken at the onset of symptoms. If taken correctly, they can potentially head-off a large-scale asthma exacerbation.

There are two different types (short-acting beta2-agonist and anticholinergic); both are bronchodilators, which dilate the bronchiole tubes. This dilation of the bronchiole tubes allows air to flow freely through the lungs.

For those with exercise-induced asthma, your doctor may recommend taking a quick-acting medication prior to exercise.

Long-Term Control Medications

These medications are taken daily to prevent and control asthma. It is important to remember that these medications should be taken daily as they prevent symptoms — they need to be taken even if you are feeling well.

There are a number of different types of long-term medications:

  • Immunomodulators.
  • Oral corticosteroids.
  • Antileukotrienes or leukotriene modifiers.
  • Cromolyn sodium and nedocromil.
  • Methylxanthines.
  • Inhaled corticosteroids.
  • Long-acting inhaled beta2-agonists (although these are not given alone and are always given with another long-term drug).


You may have heard of “allergy shots” — this is when you are given small doses of the things you are allergic to. This allows you to build up immunity to these things.

This is a helpful treatment for asthma, as it can decrease the trigger exponentially. Immunotherapy is also available as a sublingual tablet for a few different environmental allergens.

Saline Rinses

Saline rinses through a Neti Pot or a similar device may also help your asthma symptoms if they are caused by environmental allergens. The rinse basically clears your nose of the allergens that may trigger an exacerbation.

It is also important to note that tap water is not recommended for saline rinses; the CDC recommends using distilled, sterile, or previously boiled water.