Asthma

The airways narrow and swell and produce extra mucus

A Common respiratory condition that causes occasional breathing difficulties sometimes exasperated by external sources.

What is asthma?

People with asthma (asthmatics) have sensitive, inflamed airways which become irritated by certain triggers. When this happens, the muscles around the airways constrict and the lining of the airways swell, making it hard to breathe. Asthma affects people of all ages and is often a hereditary condition.

Need to know

  • What are the symptoms of asthma? icon plus

    Symptoms of asthma range from mild to severe and include:

    • wheezing or whistling sound
    • coughing
    • shortness of breath
    • tight chest
    • trouble sleeping

    When these symptoms are acute, you may be having an asthma attack, so it is essential to call 999.

    Asthma can be caused by allergies, such as pollen, pet hair and dust mites. Often, asthma triggers vary from person-to-person and it may take a combination of triggers to cause asthma or set off an attack.

    Illness affecting the lungs such as a cold or flu can also trigger asthma.

    Exercise or exertion may also cause a flare-up. Asthmatics may need to take their reliever inhalers more frequently during this time

  • How is asthma diagnosed? icon plus

    Your consultant will discuss your symptoms with you and help to make a diagnosis. They may order pulmonary (lung) function tests to see how much air is moving in and out of your lungs as you breathe. These tests may include:

    • Spirometry: this helps calculate whether your bronchial tubes have narrowed by measuring how much air you can breathe out after a deep breath.
    • Peak flow: measures how fast you can breathe out after a deep breath. A low reading may suggest that your symptoms are getting worse and that your lungs aren't functioning properly.

    Your consultant may also suggest imaging to ensure your lungs aren't blocked.

  • Potential treatment options icon plus

    Controlling your asthma with medication is the best way to prevent attacks. Your consultant will help you find which triggers affect your breathing and how best to avoid them. This is called an asthma action plan. You may need to take preventative inhalers every day to manage your symptoms. Flare-ups can be controlled through quick-relief inhalers. Allergy shots or antihistamine medication can help reduce your sensitivity to triggers and reduce the likelihood of an attack. Bronchial thermoplasty may be an option for people with severe asthma.

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This content is intended for general information only and does not replace the need for personal advice from a qualified health professional.
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