Patients & Caregivers - Welcome to Patient Education

So You Have Asthma:  A Guide for Patients and their Families

Asthma Fast Facts for Kids

Just for Kids



What is Asthma?

Asthma is a disease that makes the airways in your lungs inflamed. This means your airways are swollen and sensitive.The swelling is there all of the time, even when you feel just fine. The swelling can be controlled with medicine and by staying away from things that irritate your airways.

Asthma can be controlled. Expect nothing less.


Is it asthma?

Recurrent episodes of coughing or wheezing, apart from a cold, often are due to asthma. A cough can be the only symptom.

You may also have asthma if you have:

  • Chest tightness, shortness of breath, cough or occasional wheezing.
  • Symptoms that worsen with exercise or "triggers", like tobacco smoke, animal fur, dust or pollens.
  • Symptoms that worsen at night or awaken you from sleep.
  • "Allergies" or "hives".

Identify and Avoid Triggers

You can help prevent asthma attacks by staying away from things that make your asthma worse. First, you need to find out what makes your asthma worse. Some things that make asthma worse for some people are not a problem for others. You do not need to have all of the things listed below.

Tobacco smoke

  • If you smoke, ask your doctor for ways to help you quit. Ask family members to quit smoking, too.
  • Do not allow smoking in your home, car or around you.
  • Be sure no one smokes at your child’s day care center.

Dust mites

Many people with asthma are allergic to dust mites. Dust mites are like tiny "bugs" you cannot see that live in clothes or carpet.

Things that help the most:

  • Encase your mattress in a special dust-proof cover.
  • Encase your pillow in a special dust-proof cover or wash the pillow each week in hot water. Water must be hotter than 130° F to kill the mites.
  • Wash the sheets and blankets on your bed each week in hot water.

Other things that can help:

  • Reduce indoor humidity to less than 50 percent. Dehumidifiers or central air conditioners can do this.
  • Try not to sleep or lie on cloth-covered cushions or furniture.
  • Remove carpets from your bedroom and those laid on concrete, if you can.
  • Keep stuffed toys out of the bed or wash the toys weekly in hot water.
Photo by martin-dm/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by martin-dm/iStock / Getty Images

Animal dander

Some people are allergic to the flakes of skin or dried saliva from animals with fur or feathers.

The best thing to do:

  • Keep furred or feathered pets out of your home.

If you can’t keep the pet outdoors, then:

  • Keep the pet out of your bedroom and keep the bedroom door closed.
  • Cover the air vents in your bedroom with heavy material to filter the air.
  • Remove carpets and furniture covered with cloth from your home. If that is not possible, keep the pet out of the rooms.


Many people with asthma are allergic to the dried droppings and remains of cockroaches.

Things that help the most:

  • Keep all food out of your bedroom.
  • Keep food and garbage in closed containers (never leave food out).
  • Use poison baits, powders, gels, or paste (for example, boric acid). You can also use traps.
  • If a spray is used to kill roaches, stay out of the room until the odor goes away.

Vacuum cleaning

Photo by MilanMarkovic/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by MilanMarkovic/iStock / Getty Images
  • Try to get someone else to vacuum for you once or twice a week. Stay out of rooms while they are being vacuumed and for a short while afterward.
  • If you vacuum, use a dust mask (from a hardware store), a double-layered or micro-filter vacuum cleaner bag or a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter.

Indoor mold

  • Fix leaky faucets, pipes or other sources of water.
  • Clean moldy surface with a cleaner that has bleach in it.

Pollen and Outdoor mold

What to do during your allergy season (when pollen or mold spore counts are high):

  • Try to keep your windows closed.
  • Stay indoors with windows closed during the midday and afternoon. Pollen and some mold spore counts are highest at that time.
  • Ask your doctor whether you need to take or increase anti-inflammatory medicine before your allergy season starts.

Smoke, strong odors and sprays

  • If possible, do not use a wood-burning stove, kerosene heater or fireplace.
  • Try to stay away from strong odors and sprays, such as perfume, talcum powder, hair spray and paints.

Exercise, sports, work or play

  • You should be able to be active without symptoms. See your doctor if you have asthma symptoms when you are active, when you exercise, participate in sports, play or work hard.
  • Ask your doctor about taking medicine before you exercise to prevent symptoms.
  • Warm up for about 6 to 10 minutes before you exercise.
  • Try not to work or play hard outside when the air pollution or pollen levels (if you are allergic to the pollen) are high.

Other things that can help

Flu: Get a flu shot. This is recommended for all members of the family.

Sulfites in food: do not drink beer or wine or eat shrimp, dried fruit, or processed potatoes if they cause asthma symptoms.

Cold air: cover your nose and mouth with a scarf on cold or windy days.

Other medicines: Tell your doctor about all the medicines you may take. Include cold medicines, aspirin and even eye drops.