Asthma 101

What is asthma?

Asthma is a disease that affects the lungs, where your bronchi swell and narrow, often causing coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath and/or chest tightness.  Asthma is a chronic condition, meaning when one has asthma they cannot get rid of it or outgrow it, but it can be controlled.

What are the warning signs of asthma?

While this is not an exhaustive list, here are some signs to look out for with asthma:

  • Coughing
  • Wheezing:  (a whistling noise heard while breathing)
  • Shortness of breath or breathing much faster or slower than usual
  • Chest tightness and/or pain

What are some triggers for those with asthma?

Even though everyone's triggers are different, here are some common irritants to those with asthma:

  • Strong chemicals, aerosol sprays, cleaning products and pesticides
  • Strong odors (air fresheners, scented candles, and colognes/perfumes)
  • Secondhand tobacco smoke
  • Smoke from burning wood (fireplaces, wood stoves, leaves, etc.)
  • Kerosene heaters and un-vented gas stoves.
  • Paints, varnishes, and solvents containing volatile organic compounds.
  • Mold and mildew
  • Warm-blooded animal dander (pet hair from gerbils, hamsters, dogs, cats)
  • Dust mites
  • Pollen

How can I manage my asthma?

You can manage your asthma by avoiding the triggers mentioned above and by taking medication. Medications come in 2 types (quick relief and controller) and should only be used as instructed by a physician:

Quick Relief

  • Quick relief medicines help relieve the symptoms of an asthma episode (wheezing, shortness of breath)
  • An example of a quick relief medication is an inhaler.  
  • Always take as directed by a physician


  • Controller medications help individuals have fewer and milder asthma episodes and should be taken daily.  
  • Controller medications DO NOT relieve symptoms of an asthma episode and should not be used in place of quick relief medication.