Asthma is a common condition that can cause coughing, wheezing, chest tightness and breathlessness. Asthma can be controlled in most people most of the time but some people may have more persistent problems.

When asthma symptoms get suddenly worse this is known as an “asthma attack”. Severe attacks may require hospital treatment and can be life threatening but this is unusual.

If you think you may have asthma you should speak to your GP. You should also talk an asthma nurse if you have been diagnosed with asthma and you are finding it difficult to control your symptoms.

What causes asthma?

Asthma is caused by inflammation of the tubes which carry air in and out of the lungs. If you have asthma, these tubes will be inflamed and more sensitive than normal.

When you come into contact with something that irritates your lungs your airways become narrow, the muscles around them tighten, and there is an increase in the production of phlegm.

Common asthma triggers include:

  • house dust mites
  • animal fur
  • pollen
  • cigarette smoke
  • exercise
  • viral infections

Asthma may also be triggered by substances like allergens or chemicals inhaled while at work. Speak to your GP if you think your symptoms are worse at work and get better on holiday.

The reason some people develop asthma is not fully understood, although you’re more likely to develop it if you have a family history of the condition.

Asthma can develop at any age, including in young children and elderly people.

Treatment for asthma

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

Treatment is based on two important goals, which are:

  • relieving symptoms
  • preventing future symptoms and attacks

For most people, this involves the use of medication, usually taken using an inhaler. However, identifying and avoiding triggers is also important.

You should have a personal asthma plan agreed with your doctor or nurse that includes information about the medicines you need to take, how to recognise when your symptoms are getting worse, and what steps to take when they do.

Read more about the symptoms of asthma.

For further information about inhalers and how to use them visit