What Is Asthma and Is It Different From Allergies?

Learn what asthma is and how to manage its symptoms to keep your loved ones healthy and breathing well.

What Is Asthma & How To Manage The Symptoms

It is estimated that 26 million children and adults in the United States have asthma — and this disease is becoming more widespread. But what is asthma? And how does it differ from allergies? Learn what triggers asthma and how to manage the symptoms to help you and your loved ones live healthier lives.

What is asthma?

Asthma is a chronic disease that affects the lungs. It is one of the most common long-term conditions in children. However, adults can have asthma too. Asthma occurs when the lining of your airways becomes swollen or inflamed. This may make breathing difficult and trigger coughing or shortness of breath.

This disease is mild in many people. However, it can be a significant problem for others that can interfere with daily activities and may lead to asthma attacks. While experts don’t know all the things that can cause asthma, genetic, environmental and occupational factors have been associated with developing asthma.

While asthma can’t be cured, its symptoms can be managed. It’s important to work with your doctor to track your symptoms and adjust your treatment plan as needed. It’s also important to note that asthma symptoms vary from person to person. You may have symptoms only at certain times or infrequent asthma attacks. Asthma signs and symptoms include:

  • Chest tightness or pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing when exhaling
  • Trouble sleeping caused by shortness of breath or coughing
  • Coughing or wheezing attacks that are worsened by respiratory viruses
  • Asthma and allergies

Our immune systems are designed to protect us from potentially harmful threats. Allergies occur when our immune systems react to allergens, such as a food item, bug bite, pollen or something else. The symptoms often manifest themselves in the sinuses, lungs and skin.

Asthma is a chronic lung disease that can make breathing uncomfortable and difficult. The condition can be associated with either an allergic or non-allergic reaction. Asthma that is triggered by an allergic reaction is called allergy-induced asthma, or allergic asthma. It can be triggered by things like pollen, dust and pet dander. Allergy-induced asthma is often difficult to avoid, especially in the warmer months. Identifying and avoiding allergy triggers is a big part of managing this type of asthma.

Managing your asthma

  • There is no way to prevent asthma. However, there are several steps you can take to control the disease and prevent what triggers your asthma attacks.
  • Stay current with vaccinations for influenza and pneumonia. Getting vaccinated can prevent the flu and pneumonia from triggering asthma flare-ups.
  • Monitor your breathing. This will help you learn to recognize the warning signs of an attack, such as shortness of breath, coughing or wheezing.
  • Avoid asthma triggers. Many outdoor allergens and irritants can trigger asthma attacks. Your doctor can help you figure out what causes your asthma, and then you can take steps to avoid those triggers.
  • Treat attacks early. You are less likely to have a severe attack if you act quickly. You also won’t need as much medication to control your symptoms.
  • Take medications as prescribed. Don’t change medications without talking to your doctor first. They will ensure you are using it correctly and taking the right dose.

If you have questions about what asthma is and how to manage your symptoms, find a nearby Valleywise Community Health Center or call 1 (833) VLLYWSE to schedule an in-person or virtual appointment.


  1. https://www.cdc.gov/asthma/faqs.htm
  2. https://acaai.org/asthma/asthma-101
  3. https://www.lung.org/lung-health-diseases/lung-disease-lookup/asthma/learn-about-asthma/what-is-asthma
  4. https://acaai.org/resources/connect/ask-allergist/difference-between-allergies-and-asthma

About the Author

Edward Carter, MD - Pediatrics

Dr. Edward Carter is a pediatric pulmonologist and a District Medical Group provider at Valleywise Health. Dr. Carter graduated from Vanderbilt Medical School, Nashville TN, and then completed his pediatric residency at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Washington D.C. He went on to complete a fellowship in pediatric pulmonology at the University of Florida, Gainesville. After retiring from the U.S. Army as a COL and Chief of Pediatrics he spent 10 years in the Pulmonary Division at Seattle’s Children’s Hospital and was a Professor of Pediatrics at The University of Washington School of Medicine. He moved to Phoenix in 2013 to take a position with Banner Health, where he was a Regional Medical Director, before transitioning to Valleywise Health. He is board certified in both general pediatrics and pediatric pulmonology.

Read more posts by Edward Carter, MD  Browse all topics

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