Is Asthma Genetic? Symptoms, Causes, Treatment, And Preventions

Asthma is one of the most common chronic disorders in the United States, with around 26 million people living with this condition — that's one in every 13 people.¹

There is no age limit to developing asthma, as asthma may develop at a young age or later in life as an adult.

Numerous risk factors could contribute to the development of asthma, and having a family member with asthma is one of the main risk factors associated with having the condition, particularly at a younger age.

This doesn't mean that if your parents or grandparents had asthma, you too would suffer from the same. Many of those with a family history of the condition never develop it, while others with no record of asthma in their families may become asthmatic at some point in their lives.

Medication has come a long way in the past few decades, and many asthma treatments are now available. People with asthma can live normal lives, and in many cases, the condition may go into remission for a long time. So, what may increase your chances of developing asthma? And, if you do have asthma, what can you do to manage it?

Read on to learn everything you need to know about the connection between genetics and asthma.

Have you considered clinical trials for Asthma?

We make it easy for you to participate in a clinical trial for Asthma, and get access to the latest treatments not yet widely available - and be a part of finding a cure.

What is asthma?

Asthma is a chronic condition that causes the airways in your lungs to become inflamed and narrow, making breathing difficult. The inflammation and narrowing can sometimes be so severe that it's life-threatening.

Asthma could be categorized into:

Pediatric/early-onset asthma

This starts at a young age and is often associated with the presence of certain genetic factors and allergies.

Adult/late-onset asthma

This starts later in life, after the age of 18. Individuals may often have comorbid chronic conditions such as rhinosinusitis with nasal polyps (inflammation in the nasal passage with certain tissue growth causing obstruction).

Asthma could also be divided into: 

Allergic asthma

This is the most common type of asthma, triggered by an allergy-causing substance, such as dust mites, pollen, or animal dander. When you come into contact with one of these triggers, your immune system overreacts and causes your airways to swell and produce excess mucus. This can lead to difficulty breathing, coughing, and wheezing.

Non-allergic asthma

An allergy does not trigger this and often develops later in life as an adult. Viral infections, weather conditions, stress, or physical activity may trigger it.

Other subtypes of asthma that may still fall within the previous categories are:

  • Exercise-induced asthma, which is triggered by physical activity

  • Nighttime asthma, which is characterized by symptoms that are worse at night

  • Occupational asthma, which is caused by exposure to certain irritants at work, such as chemicals or dust

  • Drug-induced asthma, which occurs after taking certain medications that trigger a respiratory reaction, such as aspirin

Symptoms of asthma

Asthma symptoms can vary from mild to severe and may come and go. Some people only experience asthma symptoms when exposed to a trigger, while others may have daily symptoms.

Common asthma symptoms include:

  • Shortness of breath

  • Chest tightness

  • Wheezing

  • Coughing

If you have asthma, you will experience what's known as an asthma attack when exposed to triggers. Asthma attacks happen when airways are inflamed and narrow, making breathing difficult. It can be mild, moderate, or severe.

Mild asthma attacks may cause a slight wheezing sound when you breathe and some shortness of breath. You can likely treat a mild asthma attack at home with over-the-counter medication.

Moderate asthma attacks can make you feel tightness in your chest, like you can't catch your breath. Moderate asthma attacks may require using a quick-relief inhaler, such as albuterol.²

Severe asthma attacks can be life-threatening. Symptoms of severe asthma may include shortness of breath, a blue tint to the lips or nails, chest pain, and confusion. Experiencing such symptoms requires immediate medical attention.


Genetics and family history

If you come from a family of asthmatics, your chances of developing the condition are significantly higher. And recently, studies have identified numerous genes that have significant associations with asthma susceptibility. However, these identified genes explain only a small proportion of asthma heritability so far.


Allergies can also trigger asthma symptoms. With an allergy, your body overreacts to a harmless substance, such as pollen or dust. The immune system releases histamines, which cause the airways to swell and produce excess mucus. Children with asthma often suffer from allergies, such as allergies to certain foods, animal dander, pollen, dust mites, and mold.

Viral respiratory infection

Viral respiratory infection has been closely related to the development of asthma in children.

Other risk factors may include: 

  • Smoking — Smoking during pregnancy may significantly increase the risk of developing early-onset asthma. Smoking as an adult can also increase the risk of having the condition.

  • Exposure to air pollution

  • An unhealthy maternal diet, particularly if high in sugar, which can increase the risk of asthma in children

  • Exposure to certain medications in infancy, such as certain antibiotics and antipyretics (fever medications), may increase the risk of asthma in children

  • Obesity increases the risk of asthma, especially in adult women

Is asthma genetic?

The exact cause of asthma is unknown, but it is clear that family history plays a role. According to one study, the risk of asthma is 25% if one parent has it and increases to 50% if both parents are affected.³

However, it’s clear that genetics isn’t everything and that environmental factors also play an important role when it comes to asthma. For example, identical twins only have a 75% chance of both children developing asthma and not a 100% chance.

It’s worth noting that no single gene is associated with the condition. In fact, many genes (as many as 100) are associated with asthma, and studies have reported that many of the genes associated with eczema and hay fever are also linked to asthma.⁴ Hence, many people suffer from this triad of conditions.

However, despite the important genetic element of this condition and even if you carry the genes associated with asthma, you won’t necessarily develop it, as the evidence indicates that environmental factors also play a significant role in the induction and recurrence of asthma.

Asthma treatment

Asthma is a chronic condition with no cure. However, managing chronic symptoms and avoiding triggers helps control the condition and avoid severe flare-ups.

The goal of asthma treatment is to control the inflammation and tightness in the airways to prevent or reduce the symptoms. But not all people with asthma will need the same medication or combination of drugs.

There are two types of treatments:

  • Long-term control: Long-term control medications are taken daily, even when you're feeling well, to prevent asthma attacks.

  • Quick-relief medications: Quick-relief or rescue medications relieve symptoms during an asthma attack.

Among these two types, there are numerous available medications, but generally, they fall into the categories of bronchodilators, anti-inflammatory medications, or biologics. Your doctor may prescribe one or more of these medications based on your history, severity and frequency of symptoms, and any other current medications you’re taking.


Your doctor may prescribe a bronchodilator to treat your asthma symptoms. Most of these medications target beta-2 agonists in the smooth muscle of the lungs, relaxing them. Others are known as anticholinergics, which work by inhibiting the effects of the parasympathetic nervous system, which reduces the secretions and opens the airway.

Bronchodilators are capable of reversing or reducing asthma symptoms. However, they don’t treat the underlying pathology. Most bronchodilators are prescribed in the form of inhalers and include the following:

  • Albuterol

  • Metaproterenol

  • Terbutaline 

  • Ipratropium

Anti-inflammatory medications

Anti-inflammatory medications, or corticosteroids, are prescribed to reduce the inflammation causing many asthma symptoms. They are commonly in the form of inhalers that add beta-2 agonists to corticosteroids. However, they can also be administered on their own, orally or intravenously.

Corticosteroids reduce lung inflammation and open airways. Some of the common anti-inflammatory medications for asthma include:

  • Fluticasone

  • Beclomethasone


Biologics are a type of drug made from biologic sources such as proteins or cells extracted from living organisms.

They are powerful medications that can be used in severe cases that don’t respond enough to other common medications. They target and affect specific genotypes or protein receptors, influencing bodily immune reactions to triggers. These drugs are usually in the form of intravenous injections. Examples include the following: 

  • Omalizumab antibody

  • Mepolizumab

  • Reslizumab

Prevention of asthma attacks

There are some things you can do to prevent asthma attacks. These include avoiding triggers, maintaining good lung health, and getting the flu vaccine.

Avoiding triggers is one of the most important ways to prevent asthma attacks. Triggers can differ for everyone, but common triggers include smoke, dust, pollen, cold air, and exercise. 

Change your working condition if you're exposed to triggers at your job. If you can't avoid triggers, take medication beforehand to prevent an attack.

Maintaining good lung health is also crucial for preventing asthma attacks. If you are a smoker, quitting is one of the best things you can do for your lungs. You can opt for nicotine replacement therapy to help you quit. You can also exercise regularly and avoid air pollution to maintain good lung health.

Getting the flu vaccine is also vital for preventing asthma attacks. Children and adults with asthma are at a much higher risk of developing complications from the flu, such as pneumonia, so it is important to keep up with your yearly flu shot.

Having an action plan for asthma is also essential. This written plan outlines what to do if you or your child have an asthma attack. It should be created with your doctor's help and tailored to the individual needs.

Proper use of asthma medication is also essential. Ensure you know when and how to use your inhaler correctly, and follow the instructions on the asthma action plan.

Living with asthma

There is no cure for asthma, but it can be controlled and managed. With proper treatment, people with asthma can live normally. Working with your doctor to devise a personalized treatment plan is crucial. This plan should include what medications to take, what to do in an emergency, and how to avoid triggers.

Monitoring asthma is also vital to ensure the medications work and adjust the dosage as needed. Doctors may recommend keeping a peak flow meter at home and using it daily. A peak flow meter is a small, handheld device that measures how well air flows from your lungs.

Your doctor may also recommend seeing an allergist or pulmonologist every two to six weeks. An allergist will assist you in clarifying a diagnosis and managing asthma symptoms. A pulmonologist can assist you with assessing and improving your lung health. Meanwhile, home remedies can significantly help in controlling asthma symptoms and preventing attacks.

Below are some of the most common home remedies:

Diet for asthma

While there is no specific diet for people with asthma, some general guidelines can help. These include avoiding trigger foods, eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, and getting enough omega-3 fatty acids.

Trigger foods differ for everyone, but common triggers include dairy, wheat, eggs, soy, shellfish, peanuts, and tree nuts. Talk to your doctor or an allergist if you're unsure what your triggers are.

Fruits and vegetables are good sources of antioxidants, which can help reduce inflammation. Aim to eat five or more servings of fruits and vegetables per day.

Omega-3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory and can be found in fish, fish oil supplements, and flaxseed oil.

Exercising with asthma

People with asthma can and should exercise regularly. Exercise is a great way to stay healthy and manage weight, which can aid in controlling asthma. But before starting any exercise program, you must talk to your doctor. This is even more crucial if you have exercise-induced asthma.

Your doctor can help you create an asthma action plan. This plan will include what medications to take before exercise, how to warm up and cool down properly, and what to do if you have an asthma attack during training.

Remember, it's essential to start slowly and build up your endurance. And, if you have an asthma attack during exercise, stop immediately and use your rescue inhaler.

Home hazards with asthma

Many homes have at least one asthma trigger, such as dust mites, mold, cigarette smoke, or pet dander. Identifying and eliminating these triggers is the best way to prevent asthma attacks. If your heating, ventilation, and air conditioner (HAVC) system is not adequately maintained, it can also spread triggers throughout the house.

Some common home hazards include:

Dust mites

These tiny creatures thrive in dusty environments and are often found in bedding, carpets, and upholstered furniture. To get rid of dust mites, regularly wash bedding in hot water (at least 130 degrees Fahrenheit) and vacuum carpets and upholstered furniture.


Mold loves damp, dark places like basements and bathrooms. To prevent mold growth, keep these areas well-ventilated and clean.

Pet dander

Even if you don't have a pet, you may be exposed to pet dander through contact with other people's pets. To reduce your exposure to pet dander, ask your friends and family to wash their hands before handling your asthma inhaler.

Cigarette smoke

Cigarette smoke is one of the most potent triggers for asthmatics. If you live with a smoker, ask them to smoke outside or in a well-ventilated area.

When to visit your doctor

Asthma is a life-threatening condition and should be taken seriously. More often than not, asthma can be effectively managed through lifestyle changes and proper medication use.

You must see your doctor if you are experiencing asthma symptoms, such as shortness of breath, coughing, chest tightness, or difficulty breathing. Your doctor can diagnose you and develop a treatment plan for you. 

For toddlers aged between one and three years, the following symptoms may be observed in cases of emergency attack:

  • Nasal flaring

  • Coughing

  • Wheezing

  • Cyanosis, tissue color changes to a bluish tint on skin, lips, and fingertips or nail beds due to lack of oxygen

You must also see your doctor for regular checkups if you have asthma. These checkups allow your doctor to monitor your condition and ensure your asthma is controlled. They also provide an opportunity for you to ask questions and learn more about how to manage your asthma effectively.

The lowdown

Asthma continues to be a global health concern. While a family history does not certainly mean one will develop asthma, it makes it more likely.

If you have a family history of asthma and you begin noticing symptoms like shortness of breath, tightness in the chest, coughing, or wheezing, talk to your doctor to find out if you have the condition and what treatment may be appropriate.

It is possible to manage your symptoms and improve your lung functioning. Avoiding triggers, regulating diet, exercising, and staying up to date on flu vaccines can assist in reducing the impact of asthma on your daily functioning.

  1. Asthma Facts: Asthma Facts and Figures | Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America

  2. Albuterol (2023)

  3. Genetics of asthma: an introduction for the clinician (2015)

  4. Genomic Predictors of Asthma Phenotypes and Treatment Response (2019)

Other sources:

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