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Asthma is a common lung condition that causes occasional breathing difficulties.

It affects people of all ages and often starts in childhood, although it can also appear for the first time in adults.

There's currently no cure for asthma, but there are simple treatments that can help keep the symptoms under control so it doesn't have a significant impact on your life. 

Some people, particularly children, may eventually grow out of asthma. But for others it's a lifelong condition.

Although for most patients asthma can normally be kept under control, it is still a serious condition and in some cases cause serious problems.  Badly controlled asthma can lead to - 

  • fatigue and underperformance
  • stress, depression & anxiety
  • disruption to your personal life - work, leisure, etc.
  • recurrent chest infections
  • severe asthma attacks which can be life threatening

For these reasons it is extremely important to follow your treatment plan and not to ignore symptoms which are getting worse.

The main symptoms of asthma is the feeling of breathlessness.  This can also be accompanied by a wheeze which can make a whistling sound when breathing.  The patient may also develop a cough and this can be accompanied by chest tightness.

During an asthma attack these symptoms are likely to get worse

Asthma is caused by inflammation (swelling) of the breathing tubes that are responsible for carrying air to and from your lungs.

This swelling makes the breathing tubes highly sensitive, so they temporarily become narrow. This may occur randomly, or after exposure to a trigger. In addition the tubes can sometimes become clogged with sticky mucus.

The most common asthma triggers include:

  • allergens, such as house dust mites, animal fur and pollens 
  • other irritants, such as cigarette smoke, strong smells, gases, air pollution and cold air 
  • exercise
  • chest infections (e.g. common cold, flu, etc.)

If a patient can identify a particular trigger and avoid being exposed to this, then they are generally able to keep their asthma under control.

While there's currently no cure for asthma, there are a number of treatments that can help control the condition. 

Most asthma treatments are taken using an inhaler, a small device that delivers the medication in a spray or powder form to your breathing tubes as you breathe in.

The main treatments are:

  • identifying and avoiding asthma triggers if possible. 
  • reliever inhalers (fast acting, short duration of action) – used when needed to quickly relieve asthma symptoms for a short time. 
  • preventer inhalers (slow acting, long duration of action) – used regularly every day to reduce the inflammation in the breathing tubes, which prevents asthma symptoms occurring.

Relievers are usually blue in colour and used on a when required basis.  You should inform your GP if you are having to use your reliever on more than 3 separate occasions per week.  It may indicate you require more intervention and the GP may recommend initiating a preventer also.

Preventers are taken on a daily basis and it is important to take them every day even if you feel fine.  They reduce inflammation in the airways and make it easier to breathe.

NHS choices website for useful information and guidance 

Asthma UK - understanding asthma, its causes and how best to treat your symptoms