Frequently Asked Questions

What is Asthma?

Asthma is a disease that affects the lungs and causes breathing problems. The airways in the lungs are blocked causing less air than normal to reach the lungs. People with asthma may experience wheezing, loss of breath or have chest tightness. Coughing at night or early in the morning may also occur. A person who has asthma has it all the time, but asthma attacks only happen when something bothers the lungs. It is one of the most common chronic diseases in children, but adults have asthma too.

In most cases, it is not known what causes asthma. There is no cure, but it can be controlled with proper care. People with asthma can live a normal, healthy and active life.

Who Gets Asthma and What is the Impact of Asthma?

Asthma affects Americans of all ages, races, and ethnic groups but low-income and minority populations experience higher rates of hospital admissions and emergency room visits due to asthma. Asthma can run in families, if someone in a family has asthma, another member is more likely to have it.

Asthma can impact a person's day-to-day life:

  • Asthma is a leading cause of school absences
  • Asthma can result in many lost nights of sleep
  • Asthma can disrupt daily activities

According to recent New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH) asthma surveillance information:

  • Approximately 1 in 10 adults in New York State have asthma
  • Approximately 1 in 12 children in New York State have asthma
  • 1 in every 2 New Yorkers with asthma does not have their asthma under control
  • Non-Hispanic black and multi-race non-Hispanic individuals have the highest prevalence and mortality rates of asthma
  • The Bronx has the highest emergency department visit and hospital discharge rates for asthma in New York State
  • Asthma caused an average of 299 deaths per year in New York over the ten-year period from 2009 to 2019
  • The cost for asthma-related services in 2014 for the Medicaid Managed Care population alone was more than $316 million, and the average cost per visit was $994

What Causes Asthma Symptoms?

Asthma causes airways, the passages that bring air to your lungs, to become very sensitive and reactive. When airways come in contact with "triggers", the airways narrow, swell and produce mucus. In addition, the muscles on the outside of the airways constrict and tighten around the airways. As a result, breathing becomes difficult. These effects cause episodes of breathlessness, wheezing, coughing, and chest tightness. Having one or several of these symptoms is called an asthma episode, or attack. These symptoms are usually temporary and can be mild or life threatening.

What are Asthma Triggers?

Asthma triggers can vary greatly from person to person. Knowing and managing triggers is a key part of asthma management. Once a person knows their triggers, it is possible to develop a plan to avoid them.

Upper respiratory viral infections, house dust mites, cockroach debris, animal dander, mold, pollen, cold air, exercise, stress, tobacco smoke and indoor and outdoor air pollutants can trigger symptoms.

Asthma triggers affect people differently, but studies have shown that if they are reduced or eliminated, symptoms and the need for medications are reduced and lung function is improved.

Common Factors or Triggers:

  • Tobacco Smoke
  • Exercise
  • Stress
  • Cold Air
  • Pollen
  • Mold
  • Animal Dander
  • Dust Mites Debris
  • Cockroaches Debris
  • Diesel Exhaust
  • Air Pollution
  • Isocyanates
  • Dyes
  • Formaldehyde
  • Wood Dust

Asthma Triggers at Home and in the Workplace

  • Have Asthma? Take A Look Around You (English, Spanish)
  • Asthma Trigger Tracker and Key Questions (English, Spanish)
  • Is Your Asthma Work-Related? Work-related asthma is more common than you think. Find out if your job could be affecting your asthma, and what you can do to control your asthma at work.

How can Asthma Attacks be Reduced or Prevented?

Using the correct medications, reducing exposure to triggers and learning how to manage asthma as a chronic disease can reduce both the frequency and severity of asthma symptoms.

How is Asthma Managed?

Asthma can be well controlled with:

  • Medical management
  • Proper use of asthma medications and devices
  • Self-management of asthma symptoms, and
  • Reducing exposure to asthma triggers

What Do You Need to Do?

  • Select a primary care physician/provider
  • Keep appointments even if you are not having any symptoms
  • Develop an Asthma Action Plan (AAP Spanish) with your provider. Keep a copy of your plan handy to refer to. If your child has asthma, share a copy of his or her plan with your child's daycare or school.
  • Learn about asthma medications
  • Learn how and when to use the right medicine
  • Take the medicine prescribed by your physician to prevent asthma symptoms, even if you are not experiencing symptoms
  • Learn what "triggers" your asthma symptoms
  • Remove and reduce the triggers in your environment that make your asthma worse
  • Learn when to call for medical care and what to do in an emergency

What Medications are Used for Asthma?

Not everyone with asthma takes the same medicine. Some medicines can be inhaled or breathed in. Others can be taken orally in the form of a pill. It is important to know what asthma medication a person has been prescribed and when to take it. Not all medications work in the same way, even if they come in the same kind of container.

There are two common types of asthma medicines: quick-relief medications and long-acting control medications.

  • Quick-Relief Medications control the symptoms of an asthma attack. They are also known as rescue medications or short acting beta2-antagonist (SABA). All people with asthma need quick-relief medicines to help relieve asthma symptoms that may flare up. Inhaled rescue medications are the first choice for quick-relief. These medicines act quickly to relax tight muscles around the airways when an attack occurs. This allows the airways to open so air can flow through them. If a person is using their quick-relief medicines more than usual, they should visit their health care provider.
  • Long-Acting Control Medications, also known as long-term control medicines, are taken regularly. This type of medication is taken even when a person is not having an asthma attack or has no symptoms. It can help a person with asthma have fewer and milder attacks. Most people who have asthma need to take long-term control medicines daily to help prevent symptoms. Long-term medicines reduce airway inflammation, which helps prevent symptoms from starting. These medicines don't give quick-relief from symptoms. A quick-relief medicine would still need to be used if a person is having an asthma attack.

Asthma medicines can have side effects, but most side effects are mild and soon go away. A health care provider can explain the side effects of asthma medicines.

If You are Taking Asthma Medications, You Need to Know:

  • The kind of medication you are taking
  • How you are supposed to take your medication
  • How the medication helps your asthma
  • The side effects of the medication

Use your Asthma Action Plan (AAP Spanish) to help you keep track of when to use your asthma medications.