What is asthma?

What is asthma?

Asthma is a chronic lung disease that inflames and narrows the airways. Asthma causes frequent periods of wheezing, chest tightness, shortness of breath and coughing. The coughing often occurs at night or early in the morning. Asthma affects people of all ages, but it most often starts during childhood.

What causes asthma?

The exact cause of asthma is unknown. Researchers think some genetic and environmental factors interact to cause asthma, most often early in life. These factors include:

    • An inherited tendency to develop allergies
    • Parents who have asthma
    • Certain respiratory infections during childhood
    • Contact with some airborne allergens or exposure to some viral infections in infancy or in early childhood when the immune system is developing.

What triggers asthma?

Many things can trigger or worsen asthma symptoms. They may include:

    • Allergens from dust, animal fur, cockroaches and mould, and pollens from trees, grasses and flowers
    • Irritants such as cigarette smoke, air pollution, chemicals or dust in the workplace, compounds in home d├ęcor products and sprays (such as hairspray)
    • Medicines such as aspirin or other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicine
    • Sulphites in foods and drinks
    • Viral upper respiratory infections, such as colds
    • Physical activity, including exercise.

Your health provider can help you find out which things may cause your asthma to flare up when you come into contact with them.

Other health conditions can make asthma harder to manage, for example a runny nose, sinus infections, reflux disease, psychological stress and sleep apnoea.

How is asthma treated and controlled?

Asthma is a long-term disease that can’t be cured. The aim of asthma treatment is to control the disease. Good asthma control will:

    • Prevent chronic and troublesome symptoms, such as coughing and shortness of breath
    • Reduce your need for quick-relief medicines
    • Help you maintain good lung function
    • Let you maintain your normal activity level and sleep through the night
    • Prevent asthma attacks that could result in an emergency room visit or hospital stay.

How can asthma be prevented?

Currently, asthma can’t be prevented. However, you can take steps to control the disease and prevent its symptoms:

    • Learn about your asthma and how to control it
    • Work with your doctor and decide on an asthma management plan
    • Use medicines as prescribed by your doctor
    • Identify and try to avoid things that make your asthma worse. However, one trigger you should not avoid is physical activity. Physical activity is an important part of a healthy lifestyle. Talk with your doctor about medicines that can help you stay active
    • Keep track of your asthma symptoms and level of control
    • Get regular check-ups for your asthma. Asthma differs from person to person. Talk with your health provider about the things that seem to make your asthma worse. The important thing is to realise that you can still have a healthy, active life when living with asthma.