It can start with a chronic cough, wheezing, tightness in the chest or shortness of breath. It can be triggered by allergies, respiratory infections, exercise, chemical sensitivities or even strong emotions.

Asthma, a chronic inflammatory lung condition, is different for everyone. That's why a customized "asthma management plan" written by your doctor can be helpful.

The Asthma Management Plan for adults and children used by Allina Health features a green-yellow-red system to remind you when to take different medicine, contact the doctor or call 911.

If your child has asthma, the school nurse should have a copy of the action plan.

"I try to give an action plan to every asthma patient. It focuses on what to do next if your symptoms escalate. It's a reassurance," said Paul Dahlberg, MD, an allergy and asthma specialist at Allina Health's Bandana Square and Maplewood clinics.

"Most people who pay attention to symptoms and triggers, take their medicine and treat asthma with respect can manage well," Dahlberg said. "But long term, asthma does reduce lung function. And if you don't pay attention, it can be lethal."

Dahlberg often uses allergy shots as a treatment tool. Three to five years of shots is often enough to build up a permanent tolerance to allergens, he said.

When you need more help with asthma

People who think they might have asthma can start by seeing a primary care doctor. Your doctor can refer you to a specialist if needed. Patients who are already being treated should see the doctor if they:

  • have had an asthma-related emergency room visit or hospital stay
  • wake up at night more than twice a month because of asthma
  • need a rescue inhaler more than twice a week