Coughing. Wheezing. Shortness of breath. Chest tightness. If you have experienced any of these symptoms on a recurrent basis, you may have been diagnosed with asthma. Asthma is a chronic disease caused by inflammation of the lungs and tightening of the airways. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 26 million Americans experience asthma symptoms. Diagnosing asthma is complicated, as not all asthma is the same. Some patients experience symptoms only with exercise. Others develop coughing and wheezing when exposed to allergens such as pet dander, dust, or pollen. And then there are patients who have frequent or persistent symptoms affecting them several days a week, or even several times per day. While there is no cure for asthma, excellent treatments are available to reduce and eliminate these symptoms. Work with your doctor to create a treatment plan that fits your asthma and your life. Your treatment plan will lay out medical options for easing asthma symptoms, as well as lifestyle choices you can make to better manage your individual condition. Understanding your asthma symptoms is the first step in taking control. It’s important to determine how often, and what, is causing your symptoms. Do your symptoms occur seasonally, with exertion or rest, when exposed to an allergen, or in the middle of the night? Keep a journal of your symptoms over several weeks, or use The Asthma Control Test (ACT), which can be found online. Either will help to clarify the severity of your asthma for both you and your doctor, and facilitate the development of a personalized treatment plan. Reduce allergies to reduce symptoms. Allergies and asthma go hand-in-hand in the majority of cases. Allergy testing by a board-certified allergist will identify which allergens may be causing your symptoms. While avoidance of allergic triggers is the ideal treatment, medications such as antihistamines and nasal steroids can provide relief and reduce cough, wheezing and shortness of breath. Another treatment-allergy shots -desensitizes patients to their allergens. Allergy shots have been shown to reduce the development and progression of asthma in children. Stop smoking. It goes without saying that smoking is a powerful trigger for asthma. Tobacco smoke damages the lungs’ airways and leads to a decline in lung function. Passive smoke inhalation, also known as second-hand smoke, may even be worse and can exacerbate asthma. Children exposed to second-hand smoke experience more lung and sinus infections, leading to more asthma symptoms. Create an asthma action plan. Medications are often necessary to control asthma. The frequency of your symptoms and the severity of your asthma will determine which medications, or combinations of medications, are right for you. A short-acting bronchodilator is used to provide quick relief from coughing, wheezing or shortness of breath. Bronchodilators are used on an as-needed basis. They temporarily relax the muscles surrounding the airways, allowing patients to breathe easier. Some patients need other medicine, in addition to a bronchodilator, to reduce airway inflammation. These medications include leukotriene modifiers and inhaled corticosteroids, which must be taken on a regular basis. For patients with more persistent symptoms, long-acting bronchodilators or injectable “anti-allergic” antibodies may be added to the treatment regimen. Occasionally, steroids taken in pill or liquid form may be necessary for severe symptoms. Your doctor will create an “Asthma Action Plan.” This plan will provide information on how to take your medicine each day, and what to do in the event of worsening symptoms. Keep in mind, your asthma action plan may change as your symptoms get better or worse over time. Thus, by implementing some lifestyle changes, and developing a successful medication regimen with your doctor, you can breathe a sigh of relief that asthma will not take your breath away.