What is asthma? What are the main symptoms, triggers, causes and treatments of asthma?

  1. What is asthma?

Asthma is a very common life-long lung condition that causes occasional breathing difficulties as it affects the airways that carry air in and out of the lungs. It affects people of all ages, it often starts in childhood, but it can also develop for the first time in adults. In the UK, 5.4 million people have asthma. That’s 1 in every 12 adults and one in every 11 children. Asthma symptoms can come and go; sometimes people don’t experience symptoms for weeks or months at a time. There’s still no cure for asthma, but there are treatments that can help keep the symptoms under control, to reduce its impact on life. 

  1. What are the main symptoms of asthma?

Asthma symptoms can vary from person to person: some people have symptoms only at certain times — such as when exercising — or have symptoms all the time. Asthma symptoms include:

  •       Shortness of breath
  •       Chest tightness or pain
  •       Wheezing when exhaling, which is a common sign of asthma in children
  •       Trouble sleeping caused by coughing or wheezing, shortness of breath
  •       Coughing or wheezing attacks that are worsened by a respiratory virus, such as a cold or the flu

Sometimes asthma signs and symptoms flare up in certain situations:

  •       Exercise-induced asthma, which may be worse when the air is cold and dry.
  •       Occupational asthma, triggered by workplace irritants such as chemical fumes or dust.


Listen to dr. Mark Levy’s podcast about asthma, where he explains in details about the role of the lungs, how asthma affects them, and why asthma is a potentially dangerous disease. Different types of asthma are described as well as he discusses information on the ongoing, chronic, inflammation caused by asthma. This basic information about asthma may also help you to understand the basics of how the different asthma drugs may work.

  1. What are the worst triggers and causes of asthma?

Everything that can affect asthma symptoms, and make it worse, are called “asthma triggers”. Finding out what those triggers are, mean you can work out ways to avoid them if possible. 

Also, some stages in your life might affect your asthma condition: e.g. some women find that hormonal changes, puberty, pregnancy, or menopause can affect their asthma, but not everyone will be affected by the same things. The best way to cope with your asthma triggers is to always take your preventer medicine as prescribed and if you notice symptoms getting worse, always see your GP or asthma nurse. 

The most common triggers are:

Tobacco Smoke:

Smoking is unhealthy for everyone, especially people with asthma. If you have asthma and you smoke, it’s better to quit smoking. Also “Secondhand smoke”, the smoke created by a smoker and breathed in by a second person, can trigger an asthma attack. It’s important to make your home a smoke-free zone, encouraging household members who smoke to quit.

Dust Mites:

Dust mites are microscopic bugs that are in many homes and can trigger an asthma attack. To prevent attacks it’s important to use an allergen-proof mattress and pillowcase covers to make a barrier between dust mites and yourself, and vacuum carpets, rugs and floors regularly using a vacuum equipped with a HEPA filter.

Outdoor Air Pollution:

this can trigger an asthma attack. This pollution can come from factories, cars, or wildfire smoke and, breathing in too much of this smoke, can cause an asthma attack.


furry pets can trigger an asthma attack, especially if you are allergic to them. Try to decrease your exposure by keeping pets out of bedrooms and washing furry pets.


breathing in mould can trigger an asthma attack. You can find indoor mould growth in damp areas such as kitchens, bathrooms, and basements. Getting rid of mould in your home will help to control your attacks.

  1. How is it diagnosed? 

Asthma can usually be diagnosed from your symptoms and some tests from a GP or respiratory specialist. The doctor may ask questions regarding symptoms –  when they happen and how often; he may suggest doing some tests to confirm if you have asthma.

It’s important to have regular check-ups with GP and nurses and take medication according to what they prescribe.


  1. What are the possible treatments of asthma? 

There’s currently no cure for asthma, but medication can help control the symptoms and allow you to live a normal life. The main treatments are inhalers and tablets, but other treatments may also be needed if your asthma is severe. Your doctor and nurses will create a personal plan for you; this includes information about your medicines, how to monitor your condition and what to do if you have an asthma attack.


One of the main tests used to help diagnose asthma is a peak flow test, which is a simple measurement of how quickly you can blow air out of your lungs. A peak flow test is often used to help diagnose and monitor asthma; and if you’ve already been diagnosed with asthma, measuring your peak flow regularly can be a useful way to monitor your condition.  

Smart Peak Flow is a digital Peak Flow meter that you connect to your smartphone, and it allows you to:

  1. Record your peak flow: all readings automatically tracked and explained.
  2. Track your inhaler use: each puff is recorded in the app.
  3. Track your symptoms: let the app know how you feel.
  4. Manage and predict: the app puts it all together and warns you of flare-ups and you’re having an asthma attack.
  5. Share your results directly with your GP or asthma nurse.


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