Author(s): Lenna Liu, MD

Date Authored: August 1, 1995

Asthma inhaler
Photo by Jenn Durfey (cc license)

Patient education about asthma, including information about irritants, symptoms and treatment. English version is below, with Amharic and Tigrinya version in the resource sidebar.

This patient education material is provided by the Community House Calls project, International Medicine Clinic and Children’s Clinic, Harborview Medical Center, University of Washington, Seattle, WA.

In (country), it is called ________.

Asthma is a common illness in the United States.
Asthma can occur in children and adults

Asthma is an illness of the lungs.
Asthma occurs when parts of the lung are very sensitive or easily bothered by something in the air.
A person with asthma may be exposed to new things in this country which bother or irritate the lungs.
These things include:

  • colds
  • smoke from cigarettes or fires or wood stoves
  • air pollution
  • grass or flowers
  • dust
  • animals or pets
  • cold air or changes in weather
  • certain smells (for example perfume, paint, insecticide, incense)

All of these things can make asthma symptoms worse.
Other things that can make asthma symptoms worse include:

  • exercise
  • laughing or crying
  • nervousness or worry
  • certain foods.

Asthma can occur inside a house or outside.
Houses in the United States are built to be closed off from the outside.
Houses can trap things inside that make asthma symptoms worse.

Symptoms of asthma include:

  • cough
  • noisy breathing or wheezing
  • tightness in the chest
  • difficulty breathing
  • fast breathing

Usually there is no fever.

These symptoms occur because the lungs close down.
It is hard for air to get in and out of the lungs.

Asthma usually occurs in episodes or attacks.
Asthma can be worse during certain months of the year or at night.
Asthma may begin in childhood and it can be a problem through adult life.
Some people with asthma have relatives with asthma.
Asthma is not contagious.
You cannot give a person asthma by

  • touching them
  • sharing food with them
  • or living with them.

People with asthma are born with lungs which are more sensitive or easily bothered by things in the air.
People with asthma need to see their doctor if they:

  • cough a lot
  • get watery eyes, runny nose, or tickle in the throat
  • have noisy breathing or wheezing
  • have difficulty breathing

Sometimes if asthma gets worse, it can be very serious.

A person with asthma needs to see the doctor right away if:

  • they have tightness in the chest
  • fast breathing
  • blue colored nails and lips
  • you can see the ribs of the person with asthma each time they breathe
  • the medicines are not helping
  • they are using medicine more frequently than every four hours

The doctor will talk to you and examine you.
If the doctor diagnoses asthma, you will get medicine.

The medicines we use open up the lungs again.
The medicine will make the cough go away and make breathing easier.

We use several kinds of medicine to treat asthma.
Different medicines open up the lungs in different ways.
Sometimes we use one or more medicines together.

Some medicine is given for only a few days.
Some medicine is given for a long time.
Sometimes you need to take the medicine several times a day.

The medicine can be given in different ways:

  • as liquid that you can drink
  • as pills to swallow
  • from a small container to breathe into your lungs.

The small container is called an inhaler.
For people who are sicker with asthma and for small children,the doctor may prescribe a machine to give medicine.
The machine is called a nebulizer.
The machine mixes air and medicine to breathe into the lungs.

Here are some names of the medicine:

  • Albuterol
  • Theophyllinbe
  • Prednisone or prednisolone or steroid medicine

Some of these medicines have a different brand name.
Doctors like to know what medicines you are taking, so:

  • write down the names of the medicine.
  • bring your medicine when you see the doctor.

People with asthma need to:

  • stay away from things that make the asthma worse
  • recognize asthma symptoms
  • use medicine as soon as symptoms start before they get sicker
  • use medicine as instructed by the doctor

Other things to do to help a person with asthma include:

  • keep them relaxed and calm
  • encourage them to breath slowly
  • give lots of liquids to loosen mucus

Houses can trap things in the air that make asthma symptoms worse.
Dust and mold are common things that make asthma worse in the house.
Families with asthma need to do things in the house to make asthma better.
Clean the house when the person with asthma is not at home.

Get rid of rugs.
If you cannot get rid of a rug, vacuum it every day.
Clean floors with rag or mop and water.
Keep furniture plain and simple.
Avoid soft chairs or sofas which have lots of stuffing.
Dust furniture often.

Use bleach solution to clean mold around windows.
Use curtains or shades that can be washed.
Keep the house well ventilated.

Keep smoke from cigarettes, pipes, incense outside.
Keep smoke away from the person with asthma.

Keep animals or pets outside and away from the person with asthma.

For the person with asthma’s bedroom:

  • Machine wash pillows and bedding (sheets, blankets) in hot water once a week.
  • Pillows and blankets should be of synthetic material (not cotton or wool).
  • Wrap pillows and mattresses in plastic then put on the pillowcase and sheets.
  • No stuffed toys on the child’s bed if they have asthma.