What is Asthma?

Asthma is a chronic (long-lasting or recurrent) inflammatory disease that affects your lungs. Asthma can cause wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness, and coughing. During an asthma attack, the lungs become irritated and inflamed making it difficult to breathe. In Texas, over seven percent of children, about 479,000, have asthma.


Symptoms vary from person to person, ranging from mild to severe, and may occur often or rarely.  Some signs and symptoms include: 

  • Shortness of breath
  • Rapid and difficult breathing
  • Chest tightness or pain
  • Coughing
  • Trouble sleeping caused by shortness of breath, coughing or wheezing
  • A whistling, wheezing, or rattling sound when exhaling
  • Increased mucus production


Asthma Triggers Image List 

It is not known why some people get asthma and others do not. Asthma may be caused by both environmental and genetic factors. An asthma attack occurs when something bothers your lungs and causes a reaction. The lungs in people with asthma are sensitive and react to irritants or triggers. These triggers can bring on asthma symptoms and lead to an asthma attack.

For some people, asthma symptoms flare up in particular situations: 

  • During physical activity, especially when the air outside is cold and dry. 
  • Exposure to irritants at school or work. This can include chemicals, gases, dust, and other harmful substances.   
  • Allergies from pollen, molds, pet dander, trees, grasses, cockroaches, and other substances. 
  • During an illness. This includes an upper respiratory virus, such as cold and flu, or sinus infection. 


Asthma triggers are things in the environment that a person with asthma could react to. These triggers can make it hard for them to breathe and lead to an asthma attack. 

Asthma triggers will vary from person to person but can include:

Air Pollutants

  • Smoke
  • Sprays and Powders 
  • Ozone 
  • Particulate matter 
  • Chemical fumes 
  • Emissions from automobiles and trucks 


  • Pollen
  • Molds
  • Dust
  • Pet dander
  • Cockroaches
  • Dust mites 
  • Certain foods, beverages, or preservatives added to foods 
  • Certain medications 


  • Cold, dry air
  • Freezing temperatures 
  • High humidity 
  • Poor air quality 

Respiratory Infections

  • Common cold
  • Flu
  • Bronchitis 
  • Pneumonia 
  • Upper respiratory virus 

Physical and mental stress 

  • Strenuous exercising 
  • Emotional problems that can lead to hyperventilating 
  • Gastroesophageal reflux (GERD) 


Only a healthcare professional can diagnose asthma. To diagnose asthma, a doctor will perform a medical exam and ask a series of questions about a person's health. Questions may include problems with breathing and family medical history. They may also ask about allergies, illnesses, and things that make breathing harder.  During a physical exam, the doctor will check the heart and lungs and may perform a lung function test.  

How is Asthma Managed?

Asthma Management Goals*
Preventions Control
Prevent recurring asthma attacks to reduce the need for emergency department visits or hospitalizations Prevent chronic and troublesome symptoms
Prevent loss of lung function Reduce the frequency/need to use short-acting medications for quick relief of symptoms
Provide optimal medications to prevent and control asthma with minimal negative effects Maintain normal lung function
  Maintain normal activity levels and attendance at school or work 

*Adapted from the NHLBI NAEPP EPR-3 Guidelines for the Diagnosis and Management of Asthma. 

People with controlled asthma can: 

  • Prevent on-going symptoms 
  • Reduce the use of quick-relief medication 
  • Maintain breathing ability and maintain normal activity levels.  

They can also reduce asthma attacks and prevent loss of lung function. 

Asthma can be managed by: 

  • Assessing asthma control 
  • Monitoring symptoms 
  • Taking medicines as directed 
  • Avoiding known asthma triggers 

Asthma Action Plans 

An asthma action plan is a tool to help self-manage asthma and is developed with the patient, caregiver, and doctor. 

It provides guidance on the following: 

  • How to use medicines 
  • Asthma triggers to avoid 
  • How to respond to worsening symptoms 
  • When to call the doctor 
  • When to seek emergency care 

Sample Asthma Action Plans