Skip to main content
Read about

Prevent and Treat Asthma

Make an action plan with your doctor to reduce the number of flares and stop them when they happen.
Tooltip Icon.
Written by Bina Choi, MD.
Pulmonary & Critical Care Fellow, Brigham and Women's Hospital
Medically reviewed by
Last updated June 11, 2024

Asthma quiz

Take a quiz to find out if you have asthma.

Care Plan


First steps to consider

  • If you think you may have asthma, you should see a healthcare provider to be diagnosed and treated.
  • If you have increased use of your rescue inhaler, increased shortness of breath or wheezing, or you’re unable to control your asthma, see a healthcare provider.
See care providers

Emergency Care

Arrow Icon.

Call 911 or go to the ER if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • Severe difficulty breathing
  • Your lips start to turn blue

What is asthma?

Asthma is a condition where the airways of the lungs are hyperresponsive—they overreact—to a specific trigger such as allergens (including pet dander, dust mites, mold or pollen), cold air, exercise, and even substances like tobacco smoke, fumes from traffic, and chemicals. It can start in childhood, teen years, or adulthood. The symptoms of asthma include difficulty breathing, wheezing, cough, and chest tightness. Information regarding different asthma triggers can help a person manage their condition more effectively.

The goals of treatment are to reduce the number of asthma attacks (also known as asthma exacerbations) and stop them when they arise. Understanding factors such as air pollution and irritants like smoke can be crucial in figuring out ways to avoid these triggers.

Most common symptoms

Dr. Rx

Steps to take if you have a stress-induced asthma diagnosis: Carry your albuterol inhaler with you at all times. Try to minimize your exposure to any of your known triggers like smoke or other harmful substances. Make a plan (Asthma Action Plan) with your doctor about what you would do if you develop a severe flare. —Dr. Bina Choi

The airways encounter a trigger that causes an extreme response. They become inflamed, leading to swelling and narrowing of the airway. Mucus production also increases. The combination of these two reactions leads to difficulty breathing, wheezing, coughing, and chest tightness. Symptoms can range from mild to interfering with daily activities to life-threatening.

The symptoms of asthma may happen suddenly—called flares—after exposure to certain triggers such as dust, pets, cold air, and certain medications. Exercise is another common trigger—often 30 minutes to an hour after exercising.

Symptoms come on more frequently in certain places, such as the workplace, in your bedroom at night, or outside during allergy season. Symptoms may improve on their own when you are no longer exposed to the trigger.

Main symptoms

Other symptoms you may have

  • Nasal polyps (painless swelling and growth in the inside of your nose that can cause runny or stuffy nose and nosebleeds)
  • Frequent sinus infections and rhinitis
  • Allergies (runny nose, itchy watery eyes)
  • Atopic dermatitis (eczema)

Next steps

If you are having severe difficulty breathing (asthma attack), call 911 immediately.

In other cases, make an appointment to see your doctor about your asthma symptoms. They may want to do additional testing such as checking your oxygen level, certain blood tests, allergy testing, a chest x-ray, spirometry, or a pulmonary function test (a breathing test to check your lung function by looking at your peak flow).

Severe asthma attacks can cause such severe blockage of your airways that you are no longer able to breathe on your own without treatment in the hospital. Without prompt treatment, a severe asthma attack can cause death. Make sure to create an Asthma Action Plan with your doctor so you know how to treat an asthma attack at the earliest sign before it gets worse.

Pro Tip

Ask your doctor about new anti-inflammatory medications called “biologics.” They are injections that target specific types of asthma. They may help control symptoms for an extended period of time. Examples include benralizumab, dupilumab, mepolizumab, omalizumab. —Dr. Choi

Can asthma go away?

Asthma is thought to be a reversible and treatable disease, if diagnosed early and you make a plan for when you have a flare.

If you are diagnosed with asthma, the goals of treatment are to:

1. Reduce the number of flares.

2. Stop flares when they come on.

3. Reduce the severity and long-term effects of flares.

Treatment usually includes using inhaler medications—short-acting inhalers to stop flares when they come on (e.g. bronchodilators), and sometimes long-acting inhalers that you take regularly, even if you don’t have symptoms that day. Certain (but not most) types of asthma can be treated with other asthma drugs in the form of pills or injections. Speak to your doctor about whether these may be the right medicines for you.

  • Try to avoid your triggers. If you have flares to allergens, clean aggressively and use HEPA filters.
  • Quit smoking and vaping.
  • Get the flu shot annually. Talk with your doctor about getting the pneumococcal vaccine as well.
  • Be careful about respiratory infections and diseases as the immune system protecting your lungs are compromised


There are many different forms of the asthma inhaler. Ask your doctor about the particular inhaler you are prescribed. Be sure to follow the directions for your inhaler, as each can have slightly different instructions. Here are some common ones.

  • Albuterol/salbutamol (examples include ProAir, Ventolin, Proventil): a short-acting inhaler (a pump) or nebulizer (aerosolized medicine given through a mask) you take during a flare-up. You may also be instructed to take it before exposure to a known trigger, such as before you exercise or go to work. Albuterol works within 5 to 10 minutes.
  • Inhaled steroids (examples include Flovent, Pulmicort, QVAR) are long-acting medications that reduce airway inflammation and an important component of asthma treatment. Depending on the dose and kind of steroid, you may see an effect between 2 to 8 days. During an acute flare, you may also be treated with an oral steroid (such as prednisone), which should work within hours.
  • Other long-acting inhalers include long-acting anticholinergics (Atrovent, Incruse Ellipta, Spiriva), a combination of steroids and long-acting beta agonist (Advair, Breo Ellipta, Dulera, or Symbicort), or a combination of long-acting anticholinergics and long-acting beta agonist (Anoro Ellipta, Stiolto Respimat). You should not be using a single-agent long-acting beta-agonist (Arcapta, Serevent, Striverdi).

Ready to treat your asthma?

We show you only the best treatments for your condition and symptoms—all vetted by our medical team. And when you’re not sure what’s wrong, Buoy can guide you in the right direction.See all treatment options
Illustration of two people discussing treatment.

Follow up

Your doctor may give you a handheld meter called a peak expiratory flow meter, for you to check your lung function at home. This tool can help you monitor your symptoms and be in control of them early. Use this to measure your lung function whenever you think you may be having symptoms. Your peak expiratory flow numbers can be helpful in determining whether you are having a flare, and whether you should go to the hospital.

Kids and asthma

Asthma is more common in children. If you think your child might have asthma, make an appointment to speak to their pediatrician.

If your child is having severe difficulty breathing or wheezing, call 911 immediately.

Asthma causes

Pro Tip

Not all inhalers are the same. It is very important to understand the specific instructions for each of your inhalers. —Dr. Choi

For reasons that are not completely understood, the airways of people with asthma have higher levels of inflammatory cells and signals (such as IgE, type 2 helper T cells, IL-4, IL-5, and IL-13) that causes their lungs to be hyperreactive to certain triggers.

You can have asthma in childhood or develop it later in life. If not treated, the recurrent inflammation of asthma can cause scarring and permanent changes in the lungs.

Asthma is not contagious but may be inherited.

What makes you more likely to have asthma

You are at increased risk of developing asthma if:

  • Current or history of cigarette smoking.
  • Allergy to aspirin or NSAIDS (such as ibuprofen).
  • Exposure to workplace pollutants such as dust.
  • You were born premature, at a low birth weight, or by c-section.
  • History of seasonal allergies and atopic dermatitis (eczema).
  • Family history of allergies or asthma.


Take your medications as directed. Many inhalers can look similar to each other, so make sure you clarify with your doctor which ones you should take regularly, and which one to take during a flare.

Self-monitoring and prevention can play a very important role in asthma. You should know your triggers and, if at all possible, try to avoid them or use your rescue inhaler before exposure.

Create an Asthma Action Plan with your doctor so you know how to treat an asthma attack at the earliest sign.

Share your story
Once your story receives approval from our editors, it will exist on Buoy as a helpful resource for others who may experience something similar.
The stories shared below are not written by Buoy employees. Buoy does not endorse any of the information in these stories. Whenever you have questions or concerns about a medical condition, you should always contact your doctor or a healthcare provider.
Dr. Le obtained his MD from Harvard Medical School and his BA from Harvard College. Before Buoy, his research focused on glioblastoma, a deadly form of brain cancer. Outside of work, Dr. Le enjoys cooking and struggling to run up-and-down the floor in an adult basketball league.

Was this article helpful?

4 people found this helpful
Tooltip Icon.
Read this next
Slide 1 of 4