What is asthma?
Asthma is a medical condition that affects the airways of the lungs. There is no cure for asthma but the symptoms can be managed with the help of medicines. Asthma is associated with inflammation of the airways. In the UK, approximately 12% of the population have been diagnosed with asthma.
What are the symptoms of asthma?
The most common symptoms of asthma are:
- Shortness of breath
- a tight chest – it may feel like a band is tightening around it
Symptoms are often worse at night, or first thing in the morning. Symptoms of asthma can be a response to a “trigger” such as exercise or an allergy.
What causes asthma?
The precise cause of asthma is still unknown. “Asthma triggers” cause inflammation in the airways, which bring about the symptoms. The inflamed airways become narrow and clog up with sticky mucus which obstructs the airflow to and from the lungs.
Triggers of asthma differs from person to person but some of the most common triggers are:
- Infections (particularly chest infections)
- Cold or warm air
- Medicines (such as aspirin, non-steroidal anti inflammatory drugs, beta lockers etc.)
How can asthma be treated?
The aim of asthma treatment is to manage the condition and control the symptoms. Most people who suffer from asthma are treated with inhalers “asthma pumps”. When used correctly, they deliver doses of the medicine directly to the lungs. Inhalers are classified as relievers, preventers and long-acting bronchodilators.
Reliever inhalers – these contain salbutamol or terbutaline. It is used to ease symptoms of asthma by relaxing the muscle in the airways so that they open wider. These are short acting bronchodilators.
Preventer inhalers – these are used daily to prevent symptoms of asthma developing. These contain steroids which work by reducing the inflammation in the airways so that the airways are less likely to narrow. They are normally prescribed
Long-acting bronchodilator inhalers – these work by providing long-lasting relief of symptoms as they widen the airways. They are usually given when the preventer inhaler is not controlling the symptoms alone and so long-acting bronchodilators can be used in combination. Common long-acting bronchodilators include salmeterol and formoterol.