There are probably few things taken for granted more than breathing. Without thinking about it . . . we breathe. The lungs and respiratory system inhale oxygen rich air into the body and exhale carbon dioxide out of the body. Good air comes in . . . bad air goes out. We breathe approximately 22,000 times a day — day and night; awake or asleep — we breathe. Healthy lung function is essential to healthy living and quality of life. 


What if you suddenly realized that breathing was getting difficult? You walk outside or into another room . . . you just want to get a breath of air. With luck, changing the environment makes breathing easier, but sometimes this is not enough. As your heart begins to beat faster from not being able to breathe in, panic begins as you try to consider your options. It has been described as drowning on dry land . . . as much as you try to convince yourself you’re going to survive this, every fiber of your being is screaming you might not. 


If you have asthma, you may have experienced some version of the above. The American Lung Association states there are approximately 25 million Americans with asthma; 5.5 million are children. Asthma accounts for millions of emergency department visits and tens of billions of dollars in costs every year. 


Asthma is a chronic condition that interferes with the function of the lungs and airways. Asthma may be caused or worsened by:  

  • An overactive immune system in response to allergens that create an inflammatory state in the airways. Additionally, being overweight and/or advancing age are also associated with an overactive immune response and increase airway inflammation. Most people with asthma have this type of inflammation. 
  • Environmental exposure to triggers such as particulates in the air (smoke, pollen, fumes), exertional activity, change in air quality, or weather and climate changes.  


What do we know? 


  • Asthma is a chronic illness that has no cure. One does not “outgrow” asthma. Persons with asthma may learn how to manage it better or the asthma may become worse as the person with asthma matures. 
  • Asthma varies from mild to severe. Asthma can affect all ages, races, and colors. 
  • Asthma triggers vary from person to person. Triggers may be more prevalent at certain times of the year, e.g., winter. 
  • Asthma management can be complex, often requiring more than one medication or treatment regimen. The recurrence of asthma symptoms does not mean the patient has failed — reassessment and examination of potential improvements should be a continual conversation between patient and provider. Sharing recurring symptoms (type, frequency, duration, and severity), best practices self-management, and shared decision-making between patient and provider supports better asthma management. 
  • Persons who understand asthma signs and symptoms, asthma medications and treatments, asthma triggers and how to avoid them tend to manage their asthma better and make better health choices. 
  • Asthma can be treated, which will prevent most asthma attacks. It takes time to get the right treatment plan for a person with asthma. Treatment may change over time as the person with asthma ages. 
  • The best way to avoid an asthma episode is to avoid asthma triggers. Reducing exposure to asthma triggers combined with asthma treatment(s) will reduce breathing difficulties. 
  • An asthma episode may be called: 
  • Asthma attack 
  • Asthma flare-up 
  • Asthma exacerbation 
  • An asthma episode can move from wheezing with breathing; breathlessness as the ability to get a good breath becomes more challenging; chest tightness as the lungs realize the shortage of oxygen; coughing as the body tries to force expiration and inspiration; and, for many, severe difficulty breathing as tightening airways begin to make breathing a serious medical emergency. 


Uncontrolled asthma can impact personal relationships. Having a conversation with family and friends about asthma helps others better understand how living with asthma affects daily living and helps the development of future safety nets. 


All in all, asthma can be life altering but with proper treatment and the right medical team, treatment is possible, and quality of life does not have to suffer.