Learn About Ailments | Asthma


Asthma is a chronic disease of the lungs whereby the airways become inflamed and swollen leading to difficulty in breathing. The airways (known as the bronchi) of an asthma sufferer are sensitive to certain substances such as dust mites, pollen, animal fur, cold air and smoke. These substances trigger irritation in the bronchi causing a narrowing of the airways and an increase in sticky mucus production.

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Watch the asthma video Causes of asthma
Symptoms of asthma Diagnosing asthma
Bronchodilators Related terms
Common misspellings


Did you know?
  • Over 5 million people receive treatment for asthma in the UK
  • Asthma costs the NHS nearly 1 billion pounds per year
  • Over 1,300 people died from asthma in 2005
  • Pet allergens affect 56% of asthma sufferers
  • One in ten children has asthma
  • Nearly 13 million working days are lost each year to asthma

Asthma is caused by a number of contributory factors including genetic predisposition, environment and diet. People with a family history of asthma are more likely to develop the condition. A child who has one parent with asthma doubles their chances of developing asthma than a child whose parents don't have it. Other allergic reactions such as eczema or hay fever are risk factors to the development of asthma. Premature birth or a low-weight at birth increases the chances of a child developing asthma as does the mother smoking during her pregnancy or exposing the child to smoke after birth.

Asthma attacks and the symptoms associated with asthma are triggered by external factors. Viruses from bacteria, fungi or parasites can cause infections in the chest and airways (respiratory infections) leading to asthma episodes. Dust, pollen and animal fur allergens can trigger asthma as can tobacco smoke, pollution and chemicals present in the air. Certain medicines can trigger asthma particularly the anti-inflammatory painkillers aspirin and ibuprofen. Drugs used for high blood pressure (beta-blockers) trigger asthma symptoms.

Certain foods and drink that contain high levels of sulphites such as processed foods, shrimp, beer and wine trigger asthma. Cold weather is another contributory factor to an asthma attack as are emotional factors such as stress or laughing.

Asthma symptoms begin when the body's immune system detects an infection in the airways and releases white blood cells to the area. These white blood cells cause the airways to become inflamed and fill with mucus. This process in asthma sufferers is overly sensitive and the swelling reaches a point where breathing becomes difficult. Typically, asthma symptoms include tight chest, gasping, wheezing and coughing. Severe asthma attacks can cause the pulse to increase, the lips and finger nails to turn blue, skin around the chest and neck to tighten and the nostrils to flare.

Asthma symptoms vary and can develop quickly or over a longer period (6-48 hours in some cases). Asthma can be worse during or after exercise or at night. If untreated, airways can become completely blocked and breathing stops resulting in death.

Asthma symptoms are usually only present at the time of an asthma attack and so diagnosis should be undertaken by a GP. A GP will ask about family history, allergies, medications and working environment to determine a history of the condition and identify a common trigger of the asthma attack. Breathing rate and the presence of wheezing are also good indicators to asthma.

The most popular way to diagnose asthma is by a peak expiratory flow rate (PEFR) test. The test involves breathing into a small device that determines the amount of air the lungs can breathe out. Anti-asthma medicine is then given and a second reading taken. If the second result is higher diagnosis of asthma is confirmed. Should there be additional symptoms then a chest x-ray is carried out to rule out other respiratory disorders such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, bronchiectasis or lung cancer.

Asthma is usually very responsive to the application of bronchodilators which are medications targeted at improving the bronchial airflow. They work by helping to expand the narrowed airways and improving the breathing capacity of the patients. Auto halers are the most common devices for delivering a metered dose of medication (commonly salbutamol sulphate) which works almost immediately on the bronchial smooth muscle.

  • Asthmatic
  • Asthma Attack
  • Asthma Trigger
  • Bronchial tubes
  • Constrict
  • Wheeze
  • Cough
  • Bronchodilators
  • Inhaler
  • Peak Expiratory Flow
  • Salbutamol sulphate
  • Spirometer
  • Albuterol
  • Dry Powder Inhalers
  • Nebulizer
  • Oral Corticosteroids
  • Breathing Disorder

Ashma, Asma, Astma, Asthma Symptons

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