What you need to know about asthma

By Dr. Ash Patel and Emily Grenfell

What is Asthma?

Asthma is a common condition that affects the lungs. The branching tubes that carry air into your lungs are called bronchi, and if you have asthma the bronchi will be more sensitive than normal. When an asthmatic comes into contact with something that irritates their lungs, their bronchi swell and tighten and there is an increase in the production of the sticky mucus that normally traps infectious bacteria. When these things happen, the asthmatic will find it difficult to breathe, and they may experience an asthma attack.

Asthma attacks are very serious. If you think you're having one, you've taken 10 consecutive puffs of  ventolin and your symptoms have not subsided it is important that you receive emergency medical treatment. You can keep taking more ventolin until you reach hospital.

It is estimated that 3 people die in the UK everyday because of asthma, and as many as 30 children a year. That's the equivalent of a whole classroom. So if you think you're having an attack that's not responding to your inhaler, call for an ambulance.

What causes an attack?


Asthma attacks can be triggered by:

·      house dust mites -­ these can be minimised by washing clothes and bedding at 60 degrees.

·      animal fur ­- this can be minimised by vacuuming regularly

·      pollen

·      cigarette smoke

·      exercise

·      viral infections

·      going from a warm house to the cold outdoors

·      aerosol sprays ­

Asthma can also be triggered by incense and scented candles.


Who can develop asthma?

Asthma can develop at any age, and in the UK it is estimated that 5.4 million people are receiving treatment. That's 1 in 12 adults and 1 in 11 children.


How to recognise the symptoms:

The most common symptoms are:

·      wheezing ­ a squeaky high pitched whistling sound when you breathe

·      shortness of breath

·      a tight chest­ like there's an elastic band squeezing you

·      coughing­ especially at night, during exercise, or when laughing

All of these symptoms are very serious, so if you suspect that you might have asthma, speak to a babylon GP now.

How to prevent an attack:

It's important to identify what causes your reactions and minimise the likelihood of exposure to those things. Everyone is different, so while one asthmatic may be particularly sensitive to animal fur, another might be very sensitive to aerosol sprays.

If your asthma is made worse by exercise, pay attention to the type of exercise that makes it worse and avoid that. It may be that you can't run, but you're able to swim without a problem. If you know that dust is a trigger, vacuum regularly, and if you go on holiday, cover your bed with a blanket to stop a fine layer of dust settling on your sheets. This will prevent you waking up in the middle of the night unable to breathe.