Asthma is a long-term condition that affects the airways and can cause difficulty breathing. It affects people of all ages but most commonly arises in childhood, although it can also develop for the first time in adulthood.
There is no cure for Asthma, but treatments can assist in keeping symptoms under control so it doesn’t impact your life too much.
Selfcare and more information
Learn more about asthma
When the airways become irritated, asthma can cause the body to react in three ways:
- the muscles around the walls of the airway tighten, causing the airway to become narrower
- the lining of the airways can become inflamed and swell
- mucus or phlegm sometimes builds up, which can narrow the airways even more
The exact cause of asthma is unknown.
People with asthma have sensitive airways that can become narrow or clogged with sticky mucus in response to certain triggers.
Causes such as genetics, pollution and modern hygiene standards have been suggested.
There is not enough evidence to support whether any of these do cause asthma.
The main symptoms of asthma include:
- chest tightening
These symptoms can get temporarily worse. This is known as an asthma attack.
See a GP if you think you or your child may have asthma, or you have asthma and are finding it hard to control.
For more information on the symptoms of asthma and asthma attacks please click here.
Please see more information and advice on what to do during an asthma attack.
You may be more at risk of getting asthma if you have any of the following:
- Allergy related condition such as eczema, food allergies or hay fever
- Family history of asthma or allergies
- Previously had bronchiolitis
- Exposure to tobacco smoke as a child
- Your mother smoking during pregnancy
- Being born prematurely or with low birth weight
Some people may also be at risk of developing asthma through their jobs.
For more on occupational asthma please see the links below:
Symptoms of asthma often occur in response to a trigger. Listed below are a number of common triggers:
- Infections such as cold & flu
- Allergies i.e. to pollen, dust mites, animal fur or feathers
- Smoke and fumes
- Medicines – particularly anti-inflammatory painkillers like ibuprofen and aspirin
- Sudden changes in the temperature i.e. cold air & wind, heat and humidity
- Mould or damp
Asthma UK has more information on asthma triggers.
It is important to identify possible asthma triggers by making a note of where you are and what you’re doing when your symptoms get worse.
Speak to your doctor or asthma nurse for advice if you think you’ve identified a trigger in your symptoms.
When to visit your GP and what to expect
You should visit your GP if you think you or your child may have asthma.
Your GP will be able to diagnose asthma by asking about symptoms and carrying out some simple tests.
When visiting your GP, they may ask you:
- what symptoms you have
- when they happen and how often
- if anything triggers these occurrences
- if you have any conditions such as eczema or allergies or any family history of them
Your GP may suggest doing some tests to confirm whether or not you have asthma.
These can’t always be done with young children, so your child may be given an asthma inhaler to see if it helps relieve their symptoms until they’re old enough to have tests.
The main tests to help diagnose asthma are as follows:
- Peak flow test – You will blow into a handheld device, which measures how fast you can breathe out. This may be done several times over a few weeks to see if it changes over time.
- Spirometry – This is where you blow into a machine which measures how fast you can breathe out and how much air you can hold in your lungs.
- FeNo test – This is where you breathe into a machine that measures the level of nitric oxide in your breath; which is a sign of inflammation in your lungs.
Once you’ve been diagnosed with asthma, you may also have allergy tests to check whether your symptoms are triggered by an allergy.
For more information on diagnosing asthma please click here.
Managing my asthma
Using your inhaler correctly and/or taking your tablets everyday can help keep symptoms at bay and prevent asthma attacks. You should always check the packet before taking other medicines to be sure it is suitable for someone with asthma. You can ask your pharmacist if you’re unsure.
If you smoke, stopping can significantly reduce how severe and frequent your symptoms are. You can find more information on stopping smoking here.
Living a healthy lifestyle by eating healthily and exercising regularly is still important. Exercise shouldn’t trigger symptoms when on appropriate treatment.
It is also a good idea to have the flu jab once a year and the one off pneumococcal vaccination.
Treatment can help control the symptoms of asthma so you’re able to live a normal, active life.
The most common type of treatment is inhaler devices. These let you breathe in medicine.
You and your doctor or asthma nurse will create an action plan. This usually includes information about your medicines, how to monitor your condition and what to do if you have an asthma attack.
For more information on the different type of asthma treatments click here.
You will have regular contact with your GP or asthma nurse to monitor your condition.
The appointments will usually involve talking about your symptoms and whether they are getting better or worse. You will also discuss your medicines and whether you may be experiencing side effects.
You will also have breathing tests conducted.
These check-ups are a good chance to ask any questions/concerns you have.
Useful information about my asthma
Videos about my asthma
What is asthma? | https://www.asthma.org.uk
Asthma UK | published on 24 October 2017
What is severe asthma? | https://www.asthma.org.uk
Asthma UK | published on 25 October 2017
Living with occupational asthma | https://www.asthma.org.uk
Asthma UK | published on 3 October 2017
How to use a Large Volume Spacer (single breath technique) | https://www.asthma.org.uk
Asthma UK | published on 19 December 2012
How to use a metered dose inhaler | https://www.asthma.org.uk
Asthma UK | published on 19 December 2012
Waiting for a specialist opinion
If you have been referred for a specialist opinion your details will be reviewed and it may be recommended that you are seen by a hospital clinician. Information to support you in choosing your preferred hospital, including waiting times can be found using the links below.
How long will I wait?
If a hospital assessment and/or treatment is clinically recommended your information will be sent to a specialist. Click below to find out more about waiting times for routine hospital assessment and/or treatment.
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