Asthma is a common long-term lung disorder characterised by coughing, wheezing and breathlessness.
- A tight chest
- Shortness of breath
- Feeling tired or weak when exercising
What causes asthma?
The air we breathe travels down our windpipe which divides into two branches - one to reach each lung. These branches divide further into small tubes (called bronchioles) made up of ring-shaped muscles that contract and relax. When they contract the passage becomes narrower and airflow becomes restricted making it harder to breathe.
When a person with asthma comes into contact with something that irritates their lungs - known as a trigger, the bronchial muscles contract sharply making the airways narrow and tight. To make matters worse, the lining of the tubes swell producing an excessive amount of mucus (phlegm) further clogging up the airways.
As the person tries to catch their breath they start to wheeze, they may also cough and complain of a tight chest.
More and more people seem to be susceptible to asthma and it's thought environmental pollution is to blame.
Sometimes the symptoms of asthma may be present in childhood but lessen as the child grows up. This is known as adolescent asthma.
Anything that brings on an asthma attack is said to be a trigger. Common triggers include tobacco smoke, cold air, chest infections, pollen, animal fur, house dust mites and exercise.
The causes of asthma are not fully understood, although it does tend to run in families.
How is asthma treated?
Asthma treatment is designed to relieve symptoms and to prevent future attacks.
Medicines fall into two main groups: Relievers (bronchodilators) which relax the muscles of the airways making it easier to breathe and preventers (anti-inflammatories) which reduce inflammation within the airways. Combination inhalers incorporate both medications allowing patients to use just one device.
A peak flow meter is useful in helping to manage asthma. The higher your peak flow score (the harder you can blow out) the better controlled your asthma.
Asthmatics are urged to avoid any trigger liable to exacerbate their asthma. A severe asthma attack may require hospital treatment and occasionally can be life-threatening. If an attack is severe call 999.
- Eat healthily - obesity is associated with more severe asthma
- A diet rich in fruit and vegetables is thought to help lung function
- Vitamin C & E may reduce lung inflammation
- Cease smoking - smoking increases the risk of an asthma attack
- Seek ways to relax - stress exacerbates asthma