What is asthma?

It's a lot more than struggling to catch your breath after running for the bus

Asthma is a long-term lung condition that can cause the airways to become swollen, narrow and clogged with sticky mucus. Although often diagnosed in childhood, it can affect anyone of any age. Annoyingly, there's currently no cure. But there are simple treatments that can help keep symptoms under control.

What are the symptoms of asthma?

Common asthma symptoms include:

• Coughing

• Wheezing (a whistling sound when you breathe)

• Breathlessness

• A tight chest

Often they come back over and over again, are worse at night, early in the morning and happen in response to a certain trigger. If you think you or your child has asthma, speak with your GP. Symptoms can range from mild to severe and you don’t need to have all the symptoms listed above to have asthma. Occasionally, symptoms can get really bad for a short time, over a few days or very quickly. This is known as an asthma attack. You may be having an attack if:

• Your symptoms are getting worse

• Your reliever inhaler (usually blue) isn't helping

• You're too breathless to speak, eat or sleep

• Your breathing is getting faster and it feels like you can't catch your breath

Click here to find out more information on what to do if you have an asthma attack. Always book an appointment to see your GP following an asthma attack.


What causes asthma?

While it's not fully clear what causes asthma, there seems to be a few things that can increase your risk:

• Having an allergy-related condition, such as eczema, a food allergy or hay fever

• Having a family history of asthma or atopic conditions

• Having had bronchiolitis – a common childhood lung infection

• Being exposed to tobacco smoke as a child

• Your mother smoking during pregnancy

• Being born prematurely (before 37 weeks) or with a low birth weight

What can make asthma symptoms worse?

Asthma symptoms often appear in response to a ‘trigger’. Common triggers include:

• Allergies – common allergens include pollen, dust mites, animal fur or feathers

• Smoke, fumes and pollution

• Certain medicines

• Infections like a cold or the flu

• Emotions, including stress, or laughter

• Sudden weather changes – cold air, wind, thunderstorms, heat and humidity

• Mould or damp

• Exercise

Once you know your triggers, trying to avoid them can help to control your asthma symptoms.

How is asthma treated & managed?

There's currently no cure for asthma, but the good news is that with the right treatment, most people with asthma can live normal, active lives. Inhalers are the main treatment option. They can help to relieve symptoms (reliever inhalers) and stop symptoms developing (preventer inhalers). Tablets and other treatments may also be needed in more severe cases. Along with treatment, there are a few other simple ways to help keep your symptoms under control:

• Use your inhaler correctly. Speak with your pharmacist or GP if you're not sure

• Use your preventer inhaler or tablets every day as prescribed, even if you feel well

• Check the packet before taking other medicines to make sure they’re suitable for someone with asthma. Speak with your pharmacist if you're not sure

• Eat a healthy, balanced diet

• Quit smoking

• Get up-to-date with your vaccinations. It's a good idea to have the annual flu jab and the one-off pneumococcal vaccination

• Identify and avoid your triggers

• Have regular check-ups with your GP

If you’re experiencing any asthma symptoms or you’ve already been diagnosed and you’re worried about your condition, speak to your GP for advice.