Frequently Asked Questions About Asthma

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on April 18, 2023
5 min read

There are many things that you can do to help prevent worsening of your asthma and an asthma attack. Some of the most important are:

  • Minimize asthma triggers. People with asthma can take an active role in controlling their condition by identifying those things that trigger their asthma attacks and taking measures to minimize these triggers at home and at work or school. For example, if cats and dogs trigger your asthma, then not having a cat or dog or minimizing exposure to their dander (skin, saliva, and urine) will help to reduce the frequency and severity of asthma attacks. If there is a situation where you cannot avoid the trigger, pretreatment with appropriate medications prescribed by your doctor may help prevent symptoms.
  • Take your asthma medicine. Many people with chronic asthma take drugs (usually an inhaled corticosteroid) that decreases the inflammation of the airways. Studies show that taking these drugs on a daily basis decreases your risk of having asthma attacks. If your doctor puts you on a daily asthma medication, it's important that you take it as prescribed.
  • Quit smoking.
  • Get annual flu shots, along with a pneumonia vaccine if you are due for one. 




If you suspect that you may have allergies as a trigger for your asthma, ask your doctor to refer you to a board certified allergist who can perform skin testing or any other procedures needed to properly identify your allergies.

One possibility is that you are sensitive to aspirin and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs, which include Advil, Motrin, Aleve or Naprosyn). This is a serious asthma trigger and you should completely avoid all of these drugs. Your doctor should also see you so they can evaluate this problem. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is often safe to use for treatment of pain and/or fever.

Side effects of bronchodilators are:

  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Headache
  • Nervousness
  • Tremor

These bronchodilator side effects tend to occur more with oral forms (pills and liquids that you swallow) than with inhaled forms. However, sometimes even with inhaled forms these can occur. They generally go away as your body adjusts to the medication. If they are bothersome or continue to occur, you should contact your doctor.

It is normal for mothers-to-be to feel uneasy taking medications while pregnant. However, if a pregnant woman has asthma, it is especially important that their asthma is well controlled not only for their own health but also for the health and development of their unborn child. If you are pregnant or thinking of becoming pregnant, discuss your asthma with your doctor so your airways can be stabilized and appropriate medications prescribed. The risks of uncontrolled asthma in pregnancy are greater than the risks of necessary prescribed asthma drugs.

You shouldn't avoid exercise because of exercise-induced asthma. Inhaled medications taken prior to exercise can usually help control and prevent exercise-induced asthma symptoms. The preferred medications are short-acting beta 2-agonists such as albuterol.

In addition to taking asthma medicine, warming up prior to exercising may help prevent an attack. For those with known allergies, outside exercise should be limited during high pollen days. Outside exercise should also be limited when temperatures are very low or air pollution levels are high. The presence of viral infections, such as colds, can also increase symptoms, so it's best to restrict your exercise when you're sick.

Generally, if asthma symptoms are worse on days that you work, and improve when you are at home for any length of time (weekends, vacations) and then reoccur when you return to work, occupational asthma should be considered. This may be allergy related or an irritant reaction from exposure to triggers in the workplace. Identification and avoidance of triggers and starting an appropriate medical treatment plan will help to stabilize your airways and decrease symptoms. Ask your doctor to refer you to a specialist, preferably an allergist, to begin the correct treatment program.

Heartburn is often a sign of a disease called GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease). Although studies have shown a relationship between asthma and GERD, the exact relationship is uncertain. GERD may worsen asthma symptoms and make asthma harder to treat. If you have coughing that is not completely resolved by taking your asthma medications, then inform your doctor. GERD can be one of the reasons this is happening.

If you have allergies to mites and mold, approaches to avoid dust mites and mold include:

Dust Mites

  • Encase pillows, mattresses, and box springs with allergen-proof, zippered covers.
  • Wash all bedding in hot water once a week.
  • Non-carpeted flooring is best. If you cannot get rid of your carpeting, vacuum often with an HEPA filter. Wear a mask while vacuuming. If your child has asthma, do not vacuum while they are in the room. Products that eliminate dust mites from carpeting (such as Acarosan) can be purchased. Your asthma care provider can give you information about these products.
  • Avoid curtains and drapes. Use plain window shades instead of mini-blinds. Washable curtains should be washed in hot water every two to four weeks.
  • Dust all surfaces with a damp cloth often, including lampshades and windowsills.
  • Keep clutter under control. Toys and books should be stored in enclosed bookshelves, drawers, or closets.
  • Replace traditional stuffed animals with washable stuffed animals.
  • Keep all clothing in drawers and closets. Keep drawers and closets closed.
  • Cover air ducts with filters. Change these when soiled.
  • Pillows and bedding should not contain feathers.
  • Keep indoor humidity low (below 50%). Use a dehumidifier if needed.
  • Regularly change filters on heaters and air conditioners.

Mold and Mildew

  • Air out damp, humid areas frequently. Run a dehumidifier to keep humidity lower than 50%.
  • Use air conditioners when possible.
  • Clean bathrooms regularly using products that kill and prevent mold. Use exhaust fans to vent steam. Do not carpet the bathroom.
  • Keep indoor plants out of bedrooms.
  • When painting, add mold inhibitor to paint to prevent mold from growing.
  • Avoid sources of outdoor molds, such as wet leaves or garden debris.


An asthma attack is a sudden worsening of asthma symptoms caused by the tightening of muscles around your airways (bronchospasm). If you are experiencing an asthma attack, follow the "Red Zone" or emergency instructions in your asthma action plan immediately. If you have trouble breathing, walking or talking, or you have blue lips or fingernails, call 911.