Asthma – Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Asthma is a chronic condition in which the airways that carry air to the lungs are inflamed and narrowed. Inflamed airways are very sensitive, and they tend to react to things in the environment called triggers, such as substances that are inhaled. When the airways react, they swell and narrow even more, and also produce extra mucus, all of which make it harder for air to flow to the lungs. The muscles around the airways also tighten, which further restricts air flow.


Each time you inhale, air moves down the windpipe (trachea) and through the bronchial tubes (bronchioles). These tubes, or airways in your lungs, are a vital part of the breathing process. The tubes lead into air sacs called alveoli. Oxygen passes through the thin walls of the alveoli into the blood vessels. Then carbon dioxide passes from the blood through the air sacs to be exhaled.

Asthma is a chronic lung disease that mainly affects the bronchial tubes by blocking airflow through them. During an asthma attack, the tubes become inflamed and obstructed, and the air sacs become enlarged.

Causes Of Asthma

An overly sensitive immune system makes your airways (bronchial tubes) become inflamed and swollen when you’re exposed to certain triggers. Asthma triggers vary from person to person. Common asthma attack triggers include:


Particularly colds, coughs and chest infections.

2.Pollens and moulds

Asthma is often worse in the hay fever season.


However, sport and exercise are good for you if you have asthma. If necessary, you can use an inhaler before exercise to prevent symptoms from developing. But, as a rule, exercise-induced asthma often represents undertreated asthma. If it occurs, it may indicate a need to step up your usual preventer treatment (see below).

4.Certain Medicines

For example, about 1 in 50 people with asthma are allergic to aspirin, which can trigger symptoms. Other medicines that may cause asthma symptoms include: Anti-inflammatory painkillers such as ibuprofen (for example, Nurofen®), diclofenac, etc.

Beta-blockers such as propranolol, atenolol, or timolol. This includes beta-blocker eye drops used to treat glaucoma.

5.Smoking And Cigarette Fumes

If you smoke and have asthma, you should make every effort to stop. See a practice nurse for help if you find it difficult. Passive smoking can make asthma worse too. Even where adults smoke away from the presence of children, smoke on clothes, hair, etc, may make asthma worse. All children deserve to live in a smoke-free home – in particular, children with asthma.

6.Other Fumes And Chemicals

For example, fumes from paints, solvents and pollution. The increase in air pollution may be a reason why asthma is becoming more common.

7.Certain Pillows And Mattresses

Feathers in pillows may trigger symptoms. It is thought that some people develop asthma symptoms from chemicals (isocyanates/methyl ethyl ketones, etc) that are emitted in very low quantities from memory foam pillows and mattress toppers.


Asthma is not due to ‘nerves’; however, such things as stress, emotional upset, or laughing may trigger symptoms.

9.Allergies To Animals

For example, pet cats and dogs, and horses. Animals do not trigger symptoms in most cases; however, some people notice that their symptoms become worse when close to certain animals.

10.House Dust Mite

This is a tiny creature which lives in mattresses and other fabrics around the home. If you are allergic to it, it may make symptoms worse. It is impossible to get rid of house dust mite completely. To greatly reduce their number takes a lot of time and effort and involves taking various measures. For example, using special mattress covers, removing carpets and removing or treating soft toys. However, if symptoms are difficult to control with treatment and you are confirmed to be allergic to house dust mite, it may be worth considering trying to reduce their number.

11.Some Foods

This is uncommon. Food is not thought to be a trigger in most cases.

For many people, asthma symptoms get worse with a respiratory infection such as a cold. Some people have asthma flare-ups caused by something in their work environment. Sometimes, asthma attacks occur with no apparent cause.

Symptoms Of Asthma

Asthma attack signs and symptoms include:

  • Severe shortness of breath, chest tightness or pain, and coughing or wheezing
  • Low peak expiratory flow (PEF) readings, if you use a peak flow meter
  • Symptoms that fail to respond to use of a quick-acting (rescue) inhaler

Signs and symptoms of an asthma attack vary from person to person. Work with your doctor to identify your particular signs and symptoms of worsening asthma — and what to do when they occur.

If your asthma symptoms keep getting worse even after you take medication as your doctor directed, you may need emergency room care. Your doctor can help you learn to recognize an asthma emergency so that you’ll know when to get help.

How is Asthma Diagnosed?

A doctor visit is in order if you have asthma symptoms. Asthma is diagnosed based on your medical and family history of asthma and allergies, a physical exam, and test results. The doctor will use a stethoscope to listen to your lungs and look for signs of asthma such as wheezing, swollen nasal passages, and runny nose.

Asthma tests may include a lung function test called spirometry that measures how much and how fast you can blow air in and out. Your doctor might recommend allergy testing, too.

What Should Someone Do When Experiencing An Asthma Attack?

Patients experiencing acute asthma symptoms should first use their rescue inhaler (albuterol). If asthma symptoms are worsening and use of albuterol is increasing, then asthma patients should have a medical evaluation. A course of oral steroids may be indicated and an adjustment in asthma maintenance therapy may be needed. If symptoms are rapidly progressive, asthma patients should seek emergency medical care.


While asthma cannot be cured, it can be controlled by avoiding triggers and through the use of medications. There are a variety of asthma medications available. A doctor will be able to discuss which may be most appropriate for the patient. The main types of medications used to control asthma are:


These are usually an inhaled corticosteroid medication which has the effect of reducing swelling and decreasing the body’s reaction to triggers . It takes time for preventers to start acting (up to three months of regular use). They are taken on a regular basis each day to prevent symptoms. Examples of preventers are fluticasone (Flixotide), budesonide (Pulmicort) and beclomethasone (Beclozone).


These inhaled medications cause the airways’ muscle to relax thus reducing constriction and relieving the symptoms of asthma. They are often referred to as bronchodilators. The are quick acting and are used to relieve symptoms once they have started. Examples of short-acting relievers are terbutaline (Bricanyl) and salbutamol (Ventolin).

3.Symptom controllers

These are long-acting inhaled relievers and are used in conjunction with a preventer. They work by keeping the airway muscles relaxed and are usually used twice a day. The use of a symptom controller should reduce the need to use a short acting reliever. Examples of symptom controllers are formoterol (e.g. Foradil) and salmeterol (e.g. Serevent).

4.Combination inhalers

Combination inhalers contain both preventer and symptom controller medicine in one device. Examples of combination inhalers are fluticasone and salmeterol (Seretide) and budesonide and formoterol (Symbicort).

Because the medications mentioned above are inhaled, they are delivered straight to the lungs and can start their action immediately. Increased frequency and/or severity of asthma symptoms may require a change in the treatment regimen or an increase in the amount of medication taken. A course of corticosteroid medication (e.g. prednisone) in either liquid or tablet form, may be prescribed until symptoms are controlled.
Severe asthma attacks may require hospitalisation to control symptoms. Relieving medication may need to be given using a nebuliser (inhaled in a fine mist of oxygen via a specialised mask or mouthpiece) or intravenously (as an infusion into a drip in the hand or arm). Intravenous corticosteroids may also be given.

Note: For more information about asthma talk to your doctor or contact support and resource groups.

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