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About Asthma

​What is Asthma?

Asthma is a health condition that makes it difficult to breathe.  When people with asthma experience symptoms, their airways become swollen, narrow, and produce extra mucus, making it harder for air to get to the lungs. This can cause coughing, wheezing, or shortness of breath.  

Signs and Symptoms of Asthma

It is important to know what early warning signs are to prevent emergencies. The common symptoms of asthma include: 

  • Coughing, especially at night, during exercise or while laughing
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Chest tightness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing

What triggers asthma?

Asthma triggers are different for everyone. It is important for people with asthma to know their triggers and do their part to avoid them or prevent exposure.

  • Common allergic triggers: pollen, pets, or dust mites
  • Non-allergic triggers: smoke, chemical fumes, strong odors, extreme weather conditions, exercise, illness or intense emotions

What causes asthma?

We can’t always say what causes asthma but there are many things that we know most often contribute to developing asthma. These include:

Family history/genetics, allergies, premature birth, lung infections, occupational exposures, hormones, environment, and obesity can all lead to asthma.

How Asthma is Diagnosed

Asthma is diagnosed by a doctor or specialist using a combination of a patient’s medical and personal history, physical exam, and lung function test.

Asthma Prevention/Control

While everyone's asthma is different, people with asthma generally benefit greatly from:

  • Avoiding, eliminating, and managing triggers - things that make asthma worse (or make it hard to breathe)
  • Taking medications as instructed, including:
    • Daily or controller medication(s)
    • Emergency, rescue or quick relief medication(s)  
  • There are many types of medications in different combinations. Work with your doctor to find the right one.

Asthma Action Plan

Have an Asthma Action Plan! This is a written plan created with a doctor to help manage and control asthma. It provides a roadmap for how to take care of people with asthma when they are well, experiencing asthma symptoms, and in an emergency. The goal is to reduce or prevent flare-ups emergency department visits. 

  • Medications

    Asthma medications are prescribed to help with a patient’s specific asthma and symptoms. Do not share your medications with others. Be sure to ask your doctor, medical staff, or Community Health Worker (CHW) to show how and when to use medicine properly. It is very important that you take your medications as prescribed. See your doctor every 2-4 months to adjust needs or dosage if needed 

    Some of the asthma medications include: inhalers (recommended to use with “spacer”), nebulizers, as well as long-term and quick relief medicine. To learn for visit the Asthma & Allergy Foundation. 

    In Case of an Emergency

    Always have an emergency rescue inhaler and emergency contact on hand. When in doubt call 911!

    Sickle Cell Disease and Asthma

    Sickle cell disease is a chronic, genetic blood disorder which causes painful attacks (sickle cell crises) that can be difficult for patients to manage. Asthma is more common in children with sickle cell disease. 

    Additional Resources on Asthma

    Boston Public Health Commission
    1010 Massachusetts Ave, 6th Floor, Boston, MA 02118.
    Phone:(617) 534-5395 Email: