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Asthma Facts

What is Asthma?
boy using inhaler Asthma is a lung disease that makes it hard to breathe. Asthma symptoms include coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, and chest tightness.

During an asthma episode, the airways in your lungs get swollen. Your chest feels tight. You may cough, wheeze, or have trouble breathing. This happens when your lungs are exposed to something - a trigger- to which your lungs react. The swelling in your lungs can be occurring slowly, even if you don't realize it is happening.

► See Health Bulletin #57: Kick Asthma
Other languages:[Español][中文]

Take Charge of Your Asthma
The best way to take charge of asthma is to work with a doctor over many months to find the right long-term control medicine for you or your child so that your asthma is under control.

► See Take Charge of Asthma Card [En Español]

If you or your child keep having asthma episodes, then your asthma is not under control. People can die of asthma if they do not take it seriously and work with a doctor to control it.

► See Control Your Asthma! Stay in School

Have a Regular Doctor
If you have asthma, see your doctor regularly, even if you’re feeling well.

  • Let the doctor know if asthma interferes with sleep, work, school, play or exercise.
  • Tell your doctor how often you or your child have symptoms such as coughing or wheezing, and how often you use your quick-relief inhaler.
  • Keep all asthma appointments, even if you feel fine and are breathing well.
  • Ask the doctor for a written asthma action plan [Español][中文] to use at home to help you control
    your asthma.
  • Your doctor can send you to a specialist in asthma care if you or your child has special problems getting asthma under control.
  • Ask about a peak flow meter or a spacer to help you take charge of your asthma.

Use the Right Medicines

Controller medicines can be used to prevent attacks by people with persistent asthma.

  • You have persistent asthma if you have daytime symptoms more than 2 times a week or nighttime symptoms more than two times a month.
  • Controllers must be taken every day, even when you feel well.
  • Inhaled corticosteroids are NOT the same as anabolic steroids that some people use unsafely to build muscles.

Quick-relief medicines can be used to to relieve symptoms:

  • Carry your quick-relief medicine all the time in case of an emergency.
  • Unlike controllers, quick-relief medicines don’t prevent attacks.

Spacers are important:

  • Many asthma medicines are inhaled. If you use a metered dose inhaler or pump, be sure to use a spacer. This helps to get the right amount of medicine directly to your lungs.

Danger! Many People Use Their Quick-Relief Medicine Too Much.
  • Do you use your quick-relief medicine every single day to stop an asthma episode?


  • Do you need it more than four times in one day to stop asthma episodes?

If you said "yes" to either question, then you are having too many asthma episodes. Your quick-relief medicine may make you feel better for a little while, but you can be fooled into thinking that you are getting better. In fact, the airways in your lungs are getting more and more swollen, and you are in danger of having a very bad asthma episode.

Ask your doctor for a preventive medicine that will help stop the swelling in your airways so that an asthma episode does not even start.

Allergy control: Your doctor may also recommend medicine for hay fever and other allergies that can trigger asthma.

Lead a Healthy, Active Life!

With asthma under control, you can:

  • Participate fully in sports and other physical activities.
  • Not miss school or work because of asthma.
  • Sleep through the night.
  • Not have severe asthma symptoms.
  • Not need to go to the emergency room or be hospitalized because of asthma.

Watch out for triggers:

  • Different people have different triggers. Learning what triggers your asthma is important for control.
  • Tobacco smoke is a serious asthma trigger. If you or someone you know needs help to quit smoking, visit NYC Quits for help.
  • Colds and upper respiratory infections are major triggers for children.
  • Other triggers can include furry pets (especially cats), cockroaches, mice, dust mites, cold weather, strong fumes, mold and mildew, and pollen.