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 develop for the first time in adults. There's currently no cure, but there are simple treatments that can help keep the symptoms under control so it does not have a big impact on your life.

Symptoms of asthma

The main symptoms of asthma are:

  • a whistling sound when breathing (wheezing)
  • breathlessness
  • a tight chest, which may feel like a band is tightening around it
  • coughing.

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

When to seek help

Book an appointment with your practice nurse, asthma nurse or GP if you think you or your child have asthma symptoms to be assessed.

Several conditions can cause similar symptoms, so it's important to get a proper diagnosis and correct treatment. Your GP will usually be able to diagnose asthma by asking about symptoms and carrying out some simple tests.

Find out more about how asthma is diagnosed on the NHS website.

Treatments for asthma

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

The main types are:

  • preventer or treatment inhalers (commonly brown/purple/red) are the most important to control your asthma and should be taken regularly to help you avoid needing reliever inhalers
  • reliever (usually blue) inhalers are occasionally needed to help sudden symptoms; if you are using your reliever more than 3 times a week, please contact your surgery to book an appointment for an asthma check

Some people also need to take tablets.

Causes and triggers of 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 happen randomly or after exposure to a trigger.

Common asthma triggers include:

  • allergies (to house dust mites, animal fur or pollen, for example)
  • 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.

How long asthma lasts for

Asthma is a long-term condition for many people, particularly if it first develops when you're an adult. In children, it sometimes goes away 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 people with more severe asthma may have ongoing problems.

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