What is asthma?

Asthma is a condition affecting the airways of the lungs. The small airways can narrow and collapse. It varies on the spectrum from mild to very severe. At its worst and at times of flares it impacts negatively on quality of life and can be life threatening.

Symptoms of asthma

Asthma symptoms vary from person to person. They can happen with varying frequency and at different times but are often worse at night. Among the most common symptoms of asthma are
tightness in the chest, coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath and chest pain. In those with asthma, needing to use the inhalers more frequently can be a sign of worsening control.

Diagnosis and treatment of asthma

A diagnosis is usually made through a careful history and physical examination as well as tests of lung function and airways inflammation. There may also be the need for allergy tests. Once a diagnosis of asthma has been made, there are a number of treatment options available. The treatments advised will depend on the severity of the condition and will also account for personal factors and triggers. There are a range of medications which can help to keep the condition under control over the long term but the mainstay is usually inhalers. These are usually steroid based and will have other components depending on severity. A ‘reliever’ is often prescribed. This is usually called salbutamol and can help with increased symptoms but does not have an impact on improving the underlying condition. In some patients novel biologic agents may be necessary and these are prescribed at specialist centres.

Causes of asthma

At present, the direct cause of asthma is not yet understood. There are numerous triggers which are known to exacerbate symptoms. These triggers include allergies such as to house dust mite, pollens, pets or workplace exposures (for example chemicals).