What Are the Symptoms of Asthma & How Are They Treated?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that more than 25 million Americans live with asthma—an inflammatory disease that causes the lining of a person’s airways to swell and produce extra mucus, leading to episodes of coughing, breathlessness, and other uncomfortable symptoms. Treatment for asthma involves managing symptoms and avoiding or limiting exposure to asthma triggers.

Signs & Symptoms of Asthma

Coughing fits and stubborn allergies affect everyone on occasion, but asthma is different. The most common signs and symptoms of asthma include:

  • Breathlessness
  • Wheezing, or producing whistling sounds when you breathe
  • Tightness, pain, or pressure in the chest
  • Coughing, often at night
  • Rapid breathing
  • Throat clearing
  • Difficulty speaking

Asthma can affect more than just your airways—living with this condition may also lead to:

  • Trouble sleeping
  • Anxiety or panic over future asthma flare-ups
  • Frequent infections
  • Fatigue

Asthma symptoms can sometimes linger, but most occur in isolated flare-ups (or “attacks”) that are brought on by exposure to asthma triggers. What spurs your asthma may have no effect on another person’s asthma, so it’s important to identify your specific triggers and take steps to avoid unnecessary exposures.

A few of the most prevalent asthma triggers include:

  • Cigarette smoke
  • Physical activity
  • Pests
  • Airborne allergens such as dust mites, pollen, mold spores, and pet dander
  • Intense stress or emotions
  • The common cold and other respiratory infections
  • Cold weather
  • Additives in certain foods
  • Certain types of medications, including aspirin and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs)

When to Call 911 for Asthma Symptoms

Severe asthma symptoms require treatment in an emergency room setting. Call 911 immediately or head straight to the nearest ER if you or someone around you displays any of the following:

  • Severe shortness of breath
  • Bluish or pale fingernails or lips
  • Gasping for air
  • Confusion or dizziness
  • Shortness of breath while at rest

It’s also important to seek emergency care if asthma symptoms notably worsen or do not improve after using a quick-relief inhaler.

Treatment Approaches for Asthma

There’s no magic pill for asthma, unfortunately. Controlling asthma symptoms and reducing the number and severity of your flare-ups requires a combination of treatments and preventive strategies.

Your ideal approach to asthma management will depend on your age, triggers, overall health, and what type of asthma you have. To help physicians better assess and treat this condition, the National Asthma Education and Prevention Program (NAEPP) details four classifications of asthma:

  • Intermittent asthma– The most common form, this asthma causes symptoms that occur fewer than two days per week or two nights per month.
  • Mild persistent asthma – People with this asthma experience symptoms more than twice a week and up to four nights per month.
  • Moderate persistent asthma – This asthma causes symptoms daily and at least one night every week (although not nightly). Symptoms may interfere with some daily activities.
  • Severe persistent asthma – The most serious form, this asthma disrupts daily activities and causes symptoms every day and most nights.

Based on which classification best describes your asthma, your treatment plan will involve one or more of these three common approaches:

Quick-Relief Treatments

Quick-relief treatments are taken on an as-needed basis at the first sign of an asthma flare-up. The most well-known of these treatments is the quick-relief inhaler, which expels a bronchodilator medication that opens the airways by relaxing surrounding muscles, allowing air to pass in and out.

Long-Term Asthma Control Treatments

Long-term asthma control medications play an important role in many treatment plans. When taken as prescribed, these drugs keep day-to-day asthma symptoms in-check and help lower the risk of flare-ups. There are a few long-term asthma medications that physicians can prescribe, including:

  • Inhaled corticosteroids – Medications that help control asthma after extended use
  • Leukotriene modifiers – An oral medication that reduces asthma symptoms
  • Theophylline – A daily pill that helps relax muscles around the airways
  • Combination inhalers – A mixture of inhaled medications that help keep airways open


Biologic treatments are reserved for patients with severe asthma symptoms that don’t respond well to standard quick-relief and long-term methods. These medications disrupt inflammation-causing pathways associated with asthma by targeting specific molecules in the body. There are currently five biologic therapies on the market, and each must be administered by infusion or injection in a physician’s office or infusion center.

Another common treatment approach is taking allergy medication to lessen the impact of asthma-triggering allergens and avoid flare-ups. Bronchial thermoplasty—an emerging new therapy that uses heat to keep airways open—is another promising treatment.

Preventing Asthma Flare-Ups

Finally, prevention is key when it comes to controlling asthma. There are several steps you can take to help reduce your risk of flare-ups, including:

  • Taking all medications as prescribed and diligently following your asthma management plan
  • Consulting with a physician to identify your specific triggers and avoiding them when possible
  • Cleaning and dusting your home regularly
  • Using a dehumidifier if you live in a damp environment
  • Alerting your physician of increased quick-relief inhaler use or changes in breathing
  • Getting your flu shot and considering vaccination against pneumonia

Breathe Easy Again

Dr. Daniel Reichmuth provides expert treatment for non-emergent asthma symptoms at Florida Medical Clinic’s convenient locations in Land O’Lakes, Wiregrass, and Watergrass. Relief from symptoms are closer than you may think! If you’re ready to breathe easy again, we encourage you to schedule an appointment at the location nearest you.

About Daniel A. Reichmuth, MD, FAAAAI, FACAAI

A board-certified internist and allergy-immunology specialist, Dr. Daniel Reichmuth is uniquely trained to help patients with asthma effectively manage symptoms and achieve their best quality of life. Dr. Reichmuth has been recognized as one of the top doctors in the Tampa Bay area and has published several medical articles that are relied upon to educate younger professionals in his field. American Board of Allergy and Immunology


Allergy, Asthma & Immunology

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