A woman using an inhaler


Asthma is a chronic lung disease. When you have asthma, your airways may react to a number of different triggers, such as smoke, allergens like pollen, or infections. This leads to constricted and inflamed airways, resulting in airflow obstruction and making it difficult to breathe.

The classic symptoms of asthma are wheezing, chest tightness, shortness of breath, and cough. Asthma can be treated with medications that help control the condition from day to day, while rescue inhalers treat acute attacks of narrowed airways.

Many people manage this condition successfully with the help of medication and by learning their personal triggers and making lifestyle changes. However, if your asthma symptoms become severe, it is considered a medical emergency. Call 911 or seek help right away. 

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What causes asthma?

    While its causes are still not entirely understood, asthma is frequently related to genetic factors—people with a family history of asthma are two to six times more likely to develop it themselves. It can also develop after exposure to respiratory infections, allergens, or irritants during childhood or in the workplace.

  • How is asthma diagnosed?

    In addition to evaluating your symptoms—such as shortness of breath, wheezing, or coughing—your doctor may check your breathing with lung (pulmonary) function tests as well as your response to treatment with bronchodilators. Experiencing asthma symptoms that resolve upon treatment with medication is generally considered sufficient for a diagnosis of asthma.

  • Is asthma curable?

    While asthma is not curable, it is highly treatable. Many people manage this condition successfully over the long term with the help of medication and by learning their personal triggers and making other lifestyle changes.

  • Is asthma an autoimmune disease?

    Recent research suggests there may be a link between asthma and autoimmune diseases, which are both the result of an overactive immune system. People with asthma are more likely to develop certain autoimmune diseases, such as type 1 diabetes, myasthenia gravis, and lupus. Mast cell activation—a prominent feature of asthma—is also believed to be involved in the symptoms of autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis.

Key Terms

Asthma Diet
​​Asthma Diet: What to Eat and What to Avoid
Exhausted manual worker
Occupational Asthma: Causes, Diagnosis, Treatments
Cropped shot of an attractive young woman using a pump during an asthma attack in her living room
What To Expect During a Severe Asthma Attack
Sick woman blowing her nose
Why Does Asthma Get Worse When You're Sick?
Woman using inhaler
What Is Intrinsic Asthma?
Woman reaching for inhaler
Eczema and Asthma: Is There a Connection?
Woman uses rescue inhaler
What Is Asthma Exacerbation?
woman using an inhaler with a spacer
How Does Asthma Affect Pregnancy?
An illustration of a doctor holding a magnifying glass over a pair of lungs with two people looking at it—a woman with a tissue over her mouth and a man who is coughing.
The Link Between Asthma and Pertussis
A press kit photo of a white person’s hands holding an inhaler next to a smartphone that shows the Propeller asthma app
Which Asthma App Is Best for You?
An unseen person holding an inhaler and smartphone
Using a Digihaler to Treat Your Asthma
Allergic asthma or rhinosinusitis triggered by allergens
What Is Type 2 Inflammation?
Two male running friends running in front of Brooklyn bridge, New York, USA VIEW DETAILS Two male running friends running in front of Brooklyn bridge, New York, USA
Can You Achieve Asthma Homeostasis?
Woman blowing her nose inside cafe
Allergies and Asthma Through the Seasons
Out of breath woman stopping to rest at a light pole
Bronchial Tubes and Your Asthma
Pediatrician explaining and inhaler to a patient and her mother
Do I Need a Beta2-Agonist for My Asthma?
South Africa, Cape Town, young jogger using asthma inhaler on the beach.
How Changes in Blood Count Can Affect Asthma Symptoms
Woman undergoing a lung function test.
Vital Capacity and Your Asthma Treatment
Macrophage Fighting Bacteria
Do Macrophages Impact Your Asthma?
Cross-section of a bronchiole
How and Why Does Asthma Occur?
What happens during an asthma attack. Young man using an asthma inhaler
What Exactly Happens During an Asthma Attack?
senior man coughing outside
Allergic Asthma: A Common Type of Asthma
Woman using an aerosol inhaler that contains bronchodilator for the treatment of asthma, The inhaler dilates lungs airways to improve breathing.
What Are the Signs of Hyperresponsiveness in Asthma?
Mother holding her crying baby close to her shoulder at home - stock photo
What Is Bronchiolitis?
A woman with breathing difficulties.
What Does Reactive Airway Disease Actually Mean?
Woman with a cold blowing her nose
Is Your Immune System Making Your Asthma Worse?
Doctor giving patient blood test for IgE levels
IgE: An Important Factor in Your Allergic Asthma
Sick mature woman with sore throat
When Asthma-Like Symptoms Are a Sign of Heart Failure
Female doctor with medical record sitting examination room
Does Having a Primary Care Physician Matter to Your Asthma?
Young man using inhaler
What Happens to the Body During an Asthma Attack?
A woman coughing into a napkin due to her asthma
How Histamine Can Impact Your Asthma
senior woman using inhaler
Is Your Severe Asthma Really Eosinophilic Asthma?
Sports-playing boy using asthma inhaler
Why Do Airways Tighten?
Caucasian patient laying in hospital bed in oxygen mask
Status Asthmaticus Can Lead to Hospitalization and Death
asian doctor examining chest x-ray
What Chest X-Rays Tell Us About Asthma Patients
Adult woman using inhaler
Can You Answer These 6 Questions About Severe, Uncontrolled Asthma?
Little girl receiving a breathing treatment.
What Can I Do to Help Prevent My Bronchospasms From Happening Again?
Nurse listening to patient lungs
What Is Churg Strauss Syndrome?
Child eating peanut butter sandwich
The Link Between Asthma and Food Allergies
My heart's racing so fast
Is Exercised-Induced Asthma Really Asthma?
Toddler boy with asthma learns to use inhaler
Which Asthma Inhaler Is Right Your Kids?
Cyanosis can affect everyone from adults to children.
Why Are My Fingernails Blue?
Labored Breathing Symptoms
When to Seek Help for Labored Breathing.
Ronchi and rales are signs of breathing difficulty
Rhonchi and Rales
adult using asthma inhaler
Adult-Onset Asthma
Man with asthma coughing at bus stop
What Your Asthma Symptoms Are Telling You
Middle Eastern female doctor examining patient
What Are the Causes of Normal and Abnormal Breath Sounds?
A woman catching her breath after a run
Learn About Wheezing as a Symptom of Adult Asthma
Child coughing while doctor listens to chest
How a Chronic Cough May Be Asthma
Young woman with hand on chest
How Chest Tightness Is Linked to Asthma
Woman who has asthma
Is Your Chest Wheezing Caused by Asthma?
Woman sleeping in bed
When Asthma Symptoms Occur at Night
Woman out of breath because of physical activity
When to Call 911 If You Have a Severe Asthma Attack
Man using asthma inhaler
How Are Allergies Connected to Asthma?
spirometry young man asthma
How Is Asthma Classified, and Why?
Woman Running With a Wall in the Background
What Is Exercise-Induced Bronchospasm (EIB)?
young man out of breath
What Is Severe Asthma?
Woman short of breath with hand on her chest
What Type(s) of Asthma Do You Have?
Senior man about to use asthma inhaler
How to Distinguish Between COPD and Asthma
Spirometry Woman undergoing a lung function test using a spirometer that measures the maximum rate at which air is expelled from the lungs, Respiratory diseases department, Limoges hospital, France.
Using Bronchoprovocation Challenge to Diagnose Asthma
Page Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Liu, T., Valdez, R., Yoon, P. et al. The association between family history of asthma and the prevalence of asthma among US adults: National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 1999–2004. Genet Med 11, 323–328 (2009). doi:10.1097/GIM.0b013e31819d3015

  2. Mukherjee M, Nair P. Autoimmune responses in severe asthma. Allergy Asthma Immunol Res. 2018;10(5):428-47. doi:10.4168/aair.2018.10.5.428

Additional Reading