What is Asthma and Its Triggers?

What is Asthma and Its Triggers?

What is Asthma and Its Triggers?

Asthma is a chronic condition that affects the lungs. Certain triggers can cause an asthma attack where the airways become tight, inflamed, and produce mucus. Each person may have different asthma triggers. Common ones include tobacco smoke, air pollution, stress, upper respiratory infections, mold, dust mites, pets, strong chemicals, and exercise.

Asthma symptoms

It is important to recognize and address the symptoms of asthma because they can be life-threatening. The symptoms can range from mild to severe and infrequently to frequently depending on the person.

Symptoms include:

  •  Difficulty breathing
  • Wheezing
  •  Coughing
  • Chest pain or tightness

Signs that asthma is worsening include:

  •  More frequent and severe symptoms
  •  Waking up at night with symptoms
  • Increased medication or inhaler use
  • Decrease physical activity tolerance

When to seek immediate medical help?

A severe asthma attack requires immediate medical attention. A rescue inhaler should be used immediately. It contains fast-acting medicine that can relax the airways and provide a quick relief. Signs to visit the emergency department include:

  •  Anxiety or panic
  • Chest pain or tightness
  • Bluish or gray fingernails or lips
  • Pale, sweaty face
  •  Very quick breathing
  • Severe coughing or wheezing

Categorizing the severity of asthma

There are four categories of severity. The type of treatment received corresponds to the severity.

  •  Mild is symptoms less than 2 days in a week and less than 2 nights in a month
  • Mild persistent is symptoms more than 2 days in a week and 3-4 nights in a month
  • Moderate persistent is symptoms daily and more than one night a week
  • Severe persistent is symptoms throughout the day and frequently at night


Prevention such as using long-term medications and avoiding triggers can prevent asthma attacks. Long-term medications include inhaled corticosteroids, leukotriene modifiers, combination inhalers and theophylline. In the event of an asthma attack, quick relief or rescue medications are used. These include short-acting beta-agonists, anticholinergic agents, and corticosteroids.


  • What it is:
  • Chronic lung condition causing airways to tighten, inflame, and produce mucus.
  • Triggers vary like smoke, pollution, stress, infections, mold, dust, pets, chemicals, exercise.
  • Symptoms:
  • Mild to severe: difficulty breathing, wheezing, coughing, chest pain/tightness.
  • Worsening signs: more frequent/severe symptoms, night waking, increased medication use, lower exercise tolerance.
  • Seeking immediate help:
  • Severe attack requires rescue inhaler and emergency room visit if:
    • Anxiety/panic
    • Blue/gray skin/lips
    • Pale, sweaty face
    • Very quick breathing/severe wheezing
  • Severity categories:
  • Treatment level depends on severity (mildest to most severe):
    • Symptoms <2 days/week, <2 nights/month
    • Symptoms >2 days/week, 3-4 nights/month
    • Daily symptoms, >1 night/week
    • Throughout day, frequently at night
  • Treatment:
  • Prevention: long-term meds (corticosteroids, leukotriene modifiers etc.) and avoiding triggers.
  • Attacks: quick-relief meds (short-acting beta-agonists, anticholinergics, corticosteroids).

This article reviewed by Dr. Jim Liu, MD and Ms. Deb Dooley, APRN.

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