A woman using an inhaler

Asthma

Asthma is a chronic lung disease. When you have asthma, your airways may react to a number of different triggers, such as smoke, allergens like pollen, or infections. This leads to constricted and inflamed airways, resulting in airflow obstruction and making it difficult to breathe.

The classic symptoms of asthma are wheezing, chest tightness, shortness of breath, and cough. Asthma can be treated with medications that help control the condition from day to day, while rescue inhalers treat acute attacks of narrowed airways.

Many people manage this condition successfully with the help of medication and by learning their personal triggers and making lifestyle changes. However, if your asthma symptoms become severe, it is considered a medical emergency. Call 911 or seek help right away. 

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What causes asthma?

    While its causes are still not entirely understood, asthma is frequently related to genetic factors—people with a family history of asthma are two to six times more likely to develop it themselves. It can also develop after exposure to respiratory infections, allergens, or irritants during childhood or in the workplace.

  • How is asthma diagnosed?

    In addition to evaluating your symptoms—such as shortness of breath, wheezing, or coughing—your doctor may check your breathing with lung (pulmonary) function tests as well as your response to treatment with bronchodilators. Experiencing asthma symptoms that resolve upon treatment with medication is generally considered sufficient for a diagnosis of asthma.

  • Is asthma curable?

    While asthma is not curable, it is highly treatable. Many people manage this condition successfully over the long term with the help of medication and by learning their personal triggers and making other lifestyle changes.

  • Is asthma an autoimmune disease?

    Recent research suggests there may be a link between asthma and autoimmune diseases, which are both the result of an overactive immune system. People with asthma are more likely to develop certain autoimmune diseases, such as type 1 diabetes, myasthenia gravis, and lupus. Mast cell activation—a prominent feature of asthma—is also believed to be involved in the symptoms of autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis.

Key Terms

Inhaler for medication
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Inhaler Colors: What Do They Mean?
shortness of breath
Shortness of Breath
woman using inhaler
Bronchial Asthma: Symptoms, Triggers, and More
Inhaler for medication
ProAir HFA (Albuterol) - Inhalation: Uses, Side Effects, Dosages, Interactions
Inhaler
Armonair (Fluticasone) - Inhalation: Uses, Dosage, Side Effects
Oral pill and capsule
Rayos (Prednisone) Oral: Uses, Side Effects, Dosages
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A Full-Circle Journey With Asthma: Charmayne Anderson Shares Her Story
Hand Holding Asthma Inhaler Outdoors
What Is Silent Asthma?
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Trelegy Ellipta (Fluticasone, Umeclidinium, and Vilanterol) Inhalation: Uses, Side Effects, Dosages, Interactions
Person using asthma inhaler at home
Thrush: A Side Effect of Your Inhaler
Jurairat J. Molina, MD
Ask an Expert: What Happens If Asthma Is Not Controlled Properly?
Farah Khan, MD
Ask an Expert: Should I Get Checked for Asthma?
Laonis Quinn
Laonis Quinn: My Family's Journey With Asthma
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Spiriva (Tiotropium) Inhalation: Uses, Side Effects, Dosages
Farah Khan, MD
Ask an Expert: What Are the Risk Factors for Asthma?
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Racial Disparities in Asthma Care and What You Can Do
Infant with asthma attack
What Is Asthmatic Bronchitis?
young Black child using inhaler for asthma diagnosis
Asthma Diagnosis Barriers for People of Color
A man with glasses using a rescue inhaler for asthma in the living room.
Asthma Risk in People of Color
Jurairat J. Molina, MD
Ask An Expert: How Does Asthma Impact Daily Life?
Portrait of a young white and blonde woman turning on a new air purifier at her house
Do Air Purifiers Actually Work?
Illustration of subcutaneous syringe
Fasenra (Benralizumab) Subcutaneous: Uses, Side Effects, Dosages
Intravenous medicine
Cinqair (Reslizumab) Intravenous: Uses, Side Effects, Dosages
Illustration of subcutaneous injection
Nucala (Mepolizumab) Subcutaneous: Uses, Side Effects
Woman with inhaler for seasonal asthma
Everything to Know About Seasonal Asthma
Little boy sneezing
Signs of Asthma in Kids
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Singulair (Montelukast): Uses, Side Effects, Dosages
Asthma Diet
​​Asthma Diet: What to Eat and What to Avoid
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Occupational Asthma: Causes, Diagnosis, Treatments
(Common Asthma Attack Triggers) A person uses an inhaler with drawings around her showing common triggers such as a factory (air pollution), cigarette (tobacco smoke), a dog and cat (pets), mold, a rat or mouse (pests), spray bottle (cleaning products)
Here's What to Expect During a Severe Asthma Attack
Sick woman blowing her nose
Why Does Asthma Get Worse When You're Sick?
Woman using inhaler
What Is Intrinsic Asthma?
Woman reaching for inhaler
Eczema and Asthma: Is There a Connection?
A person uses an inhaler with spores floating around her (Common Asthma Triggers)
What Is Asthma Exacerbation?
woman using an inhaler with a spacer
How Does Asthma Affect Pregnancy?
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The Link Between Asthma and Pertussis
Apps for Managing Asthma - Illustration by Theresa Chiechi
Which Asthma App Is Best for You?
An unseen person holding an inhaler and smartphone
Using a Digihaler to Treat Your Asthma
Allergic asthma or rhinosinusitis triggered by allergens
What Is Type 2 Inflammation?
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Can You Achieve Asthma Homeostasis?
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Allergies and Asthma Through the Seasons
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Bronchial Tubes and Your Asthma
Pediatrician explaining and inhaler to a patient and her mother
Do I Need a Beta2-Agonist for My Asthma?
South Africa, Cape Town, young jogger using asthma inhaler on the beach.
How Changes in Blood Count Can Affect Asthma Symptoms
Woman undergoing a lung function test.
Vital Capacity and Your Asthma Treatment
Macrophage Fighting Bacteria
Do Macrophages Impact Your Asthma?
Cross-section of a bronchiole
How and Why Does Asthma Occur?
What happens during an asthma attack. Young man using an asthma inhaler
What Exactly Happens During an Asthma Attack?
senior man coughing outside
Allergic Asthma: A Common Type of Asthma
Woman using an aerosol inhaler that contains bronchodilator for the treatment of asthma, The inhaler dilates lungs airways to improve breathing.
What Are the Signs of Hyperresponsiveness in Asthma?
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What Is Bronchiolitis?
A woman with breathing difficulties.
What Does Reactive Airway Disease Actually Mean?
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Is Your Immune System Making Your Asthma Worse?
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What Does It Mean if My IgE Level Is High?
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When Asthma-Like Symptoms Are a Sign of Heart Failure
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Does Having a Primary Care Physician Matter to Your Asthma?
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What Happens to the Body During an Asthma Attack?
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How Histamine Can Impact Your Asthma
senior woman using inhaler
Is Your Severe Asthma Really Eosinophilic Asthma?
Page Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Liu, T., Valdez, R., Yoon, P. et al. The association between family history of asthma and the prevalence of asthma among US adults: National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 1999–2004. Genet Med 11, 323–328 (2009). doi:10.1097/GIM.0b013e31819d3015

  2. Mukherjee M, Nair P. Autoimmune responses in severe asthma. Allergy Asthma Immunol Res. 2018;10(5):428-47. doi:10.4168/aair.2018.10.5.428

Additional Reading