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Asthma

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.

What are symptoms of asthma?

The main symptoms of asthma are:

  • Wheezing (a whistling sound when breathing)
  • Breathlessness
  • A tight chest - which may feel like a band is tightening around it 
  • Coughing

The severity of the symptoms varies from person to person. They usually come and go, but for some people they're more persistent.

Asthma symptoms can sometimes get temporarily worse. This is known as an asthma attack.

Visit the NHS website for more information about asthma (external link).

When should I get medical advice?

See your GP if you think you or your child may have asthma.

Several conditions can cause similar symptoms, such as a chest infection or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), so it's important to get a proper diagnosis and correct treatment.

Your GP will usually be able to diagnose asthma by asking about you or your child's symptoms and carrying out some simple breathing tests.

Find out more about how asthma is diagnose on the NHS website (external link).

What causes asthma?

Asthma is caused by swelling (inflammation) of the breathing tubes that carry air in and out of the lungs. This makes the tubes highly sensitive, so they temporarily narrow.

It may occur randomly or after exposure to a trigger.

Common asthma triggers include:

  • Allergies (such as, to house dust mites, animal fur or pollen).
  • Smoke, pollution and cold air.
  • Exercise.
  • Infections like colds or flu.

Identifying and avoiding your asthma triggers can help you keep your symptoms under control.

What are the treatments for asthma?

Asthma is usually treated by using an inhaler, a small device that lets you breathe in medicines.

The main types are:

  • Reliever inhalers – used when needed to quickly relieve asthma symptoms for a short time.
  • Preventer inhalers – used every day to prevent asthma symptoms occurring.

Some people also need to take tablets.

How long does asthma last?

Asthma is a long-term condition for many people, particularly if it first develops when you're an adult.

In children, it sometimes disappears or improves during the teenage years, but can come back later in life.

The symptoms can usually be controlled with treatment. Most people will have normal, active lives, although some with more severe asthma may have ongoing problems.

What are the complications of asthma?

Although asthma can normally be kept under control, it's still a serious condition that can cause a number of problems.

This is why it's so important to follow your treatment plan and not ignore your symptoms if they're getting worse.

Badly controlled asthma can cause problems such as:

  • Feeling tired all the time.
  • Underperformance at, or absence from, work or school
  • stress, anxiety or depression.
  • Disruption of your work and leisure because of unplanned visits to a GP or hospital.
  • Lung infections (pneumonia).
  • Delays in growth or puberty in children.

There's also a risk of severe asthma attacks, which can be life threatening.

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