If you have asthma, the airways (bronchi), the tubes carrying air in and out of your lungs, are more sensitive than normal and certain substances or triggers can irritate them. This irritation makes the airways narrow, making it difficult to breathe and often causing wheezing, coughing and a feeling of tightness in the chest.
The cause of asthma is not fully understood, but it is thought to be a combination of genetic (inherited) and environmental factors. Asthma often runs in families, and you can inherit the susceptibility to asthma, which is then triggered by certain factors in the environment.
Common triggers include house dust mites, animal fur, pollen, tobacco smoke, cold air and chest infections.
There is no cure for asthma, but there are a number of treatments that can normally manage the condition. Treatment is based on two important goals:
- Relief of symptoms; and
- Preventing future symptoms from developing.
Successful prevention can be achieved through a combination of medicines (usually prescribed as inhalers, so the medicine goes straight into the airways), lifestyle advice and identifying and then avoiding potential asthma triggers. If an inhaler is prescribed to prevent asthma it is important to take it regularly. It won’t work effectively if used irregularly.
The severity of the symptoms of asthma differs from person to person, from mild to severe. A severe onset of symptoms is known as an asthma attack, or 'acute asthma exacerbation'. Asthma attacks can be very serious and you should follow the advice you have been given about what to do when you have one. If in doubt, always seek medical advice and use your ‘reliever’ (usually blue) inhaler.
Adopting a healthy lifestyle is very important for asthma sufferers. This includes a healthy diet, being physically active and stopping smoking (including not smoking around children with asthma). If you are a smoker it is always worth giving up, no matter how long you have been smoking. For support giving up smoking, talk to your GP, Practice Nurse or your local support group. You can find support groups local to you by typing your postcode in Practical Help page along with the type of support you want.
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