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Asthma is an inflammatory disease of the airways and lungs that can make breathing extremely difficult. The condition can cause bouts of coughing, wheezing, tightness in the chest, and shortness of breath. Asthma often requires medical attention. In severe instances, asthma can become life threatening. There are several causes for asthma. For many people, there is a genetic component. Childhood exposure to certain infections and allergens may also cause the disease—or at least make a person sensitive to asthma triggers. An asthma attack occurs when the linings of the air passages become swollen and the muscles surrounding the airways tighten. Mucus fills the airways, further reducing the amount of air that can pass through them. This cascade of events can leave a person gasping for air and precious oxygen. There are several types of asthma, including allergic asthma, non-allergic asthma, cough-variant asthma, exercise-induced asthma and nocturnal asthma. The symptoms of asthma may develop in childhood or later in life. Triggers for asthma vary from person to person. Inhaled allergens—like pollen, mold, and pet dander—as well as particulate matter—like car exhaust, cigarette smoke, and air pollution—have all been shown to trigger asthma attacks. Treating asthma involves both prevention and controlling symptoms. The first step is learning to recognize your personal asthma triggers and doing your best to avoid them. This may include thoroughly cleaning your home of any potential lung irritants, such as dust and mold spores, or simply running the air conditioner during allergy season. Medication can be very important for immediate relief and long-term control of asthma. The types of treatments your doctor may prescribe will vary based on the frequency and severity of asthma attacks you experience. Rapid-relief or rescue inhaler medications are used when symptoms flare; the most common forms of these drugs are inhaled short-acting beta agonists, such as albuterol. Leukotriene modifiers are sometimes used to help relieve asthma symptoms. Long-term control medications are taken to prevent asthma attacks. These include inhaled corticosteroids, long-acting beta agonists, and combinations of the two. It’s important to note that rapid-relief medications may not always be effective. For instance, if you find that you or your child is using a rescue inhaler more often than recommended, it’s time to check in with your doctor about reassessing the situation and perhaps adjusting therapy.