Asthma facts

Asthma is a chronic lung condition that makes it hard to breathe.

When the airways in your lungs get irritated, they swell. This makes it harder for air to flow between your nose, mouth and lungs.

There is no cure for asthma, but it can be controlled. At UW Health, we teach you how to avoid things that trigger your asthma and provide care when needed. 

emergency room visits in the U.S. are asthma related every year
of all asthma hospitalizations are for children
deaths in the U.S. each year are asthma related

Meet our team

Allergy, asthma and immunology care

Asthma often occurs along with allergies or other immune responses. At UW Health, two specialized teams of doctors treat adults and children with asthma. Our adult and pediatric asthma programs are the largest in Wisconsin.

Symptoms and diagnosis

Asthma triggers

A trigger is something that makes asthma worse. Triggers are different for each person with asthma. They include:

  • Allergies

  • Certain medicines 

  • Changes in temperature and weather

  • Chemicals and strong smells

  • Cigarette smoke

  • Colds and flu

  • Exercise

Signs of asthma

Common symptoms of asthma are:

  • Coughing

  • Shortness of breath

  • Tightness in your chest

  • Wheezing (a high-pitched whistling sound)

You may experience all of these symptoms or only some. 

What causes asthma?

Asthma is the most common persistent condition in children. One in 15 Americans have asthma. 

An asthma episode makes the airways in your lungs get narrow. You feel like you can’t breathe. If not well-managed, asthma can be life threatening. Doctors don’t know exactly why some people get asthma. The condition can run in families.

We do know that smoking is a risk factor for asthma. Children are at increased risk for developing asthma if:

  • Their mothers smoke while pregnant 

  • They live in homes where people smoke 

Spirometry testing updateChange to race-neutral reference equations
As part of our commitment to providing the highest quality care and ensuring health equity, we are making a change in our spirometry lab that may affect the interpretation of pulmonary function test results.

Treatments and research

Breathe easy with these medicines and tools

Your treatment depends on what triggers your asthma. Your care may change over time, especially as you enter adulthood.

Asthma medicine

Types of asthma medicine include:

You take this medicine as needed for fast relief of asthma symptoms. Rescue medicines like albuterol can prevent and treat an asthma attack.

You may take long-term medicines to keep chronic asthma symptoms in check. These medicines also prevent attacks. There are different types of asthma control medicines. Some are taken by mouth. Some are inhaled.

Tools to monitor, manage and treat your asthma

Your doctor may suggest that you use different tools to monitor, manage and treat your asthma. Options include:

A guide to help manage and control your asthma. Tell people you spend time with, such as school staff or co-workers, about your action plan.

A machine used to give medicine in the form of mist.

This portable, hand-held device measures how well you can push air out of your lungs.

This tube maximizes the amount of medicine an inhaler puts into your lungs.

Access to advanced treatments

At UW Health, we’ve been studying asthma for over 30 years. This means you get the most advanced care available.

Our research team helps develop new medicines and treatment guidelines. We’ve completed more than 400 asthma studies with adults and children.

Asthma clinical trials

Help advance our understanding of asthma treatment by participating in a clinical trial.

Learn more


Clinics close to home

You can get care from UW Health asthma specialists at locations right in your own backyard. We have clinics in Wisconsin including Beaver Dam, Dodgeville, Fort Atkinson, Madison, Mauston, Portage, Richland Center, Sauk Prairie, Watertown and Rockford, Ill.