Asthma is a disease of the small tubes (airways) in the lungs. The lining of these airways gets inflamed, swells up and produces excessive amounts of phlegm (sputum). The muscles in the wall of these airways can go into a spasm. As a result of all these changes the tubes narrow and the air flow to and from the lungs is restricted. Worsening of asthma may be triggered by various factors.

Causes and contributing factors

  • Family history of asthma, allergies, eczema
  • Cold weather
  • Allergies such as hay fever or animal and dust allergy
  • Respiratory infection
  • Environmental factors such as housing and air pollution
  • Wheezing
  • Cough, sometimes worse at night
  • Cough on exercise
  • Shortness of breath
Diagnosis, management Your doctor will take a detailed history, examine you and measure how fast you can blow air out of your lungs (your peak flow). Further investigations such as X-ray may be required. The most common treatment of asthma involves the use of inhalers. Sometimes additional medication in the form of tablets or other inhalers may be required. This may include steroid tablets (potent anti-inflammatory drugs). Steroids are safe in appropriate doses for a limited length of time.

You may be given a self-management plan, which includes detailed instructions how to maintain your asthma treatment and how to deal with an exacerbation. This may include using your own peak flow meter.

In the case of a significant acute attack, use your blue inhaler. If your symptoms are not relieved within a few minutes, continue using your inhaler and seek medical help urgently or call an ambulance if necessary.

  • Take your preventative brown inhaler regularly as advised by your doctor.
  • Avoid known triggers when possible.
  • Take appropriate measures in case of house dust mite allergy.
  • See your doctor or a practice nurse regularly for a review.
  • Get immunised against pneumonia and have a flu jab every year.
  • About a third of asthmatic children will "grow out" of their asthma.

Further information

Allergies and the house dust mite

This article published on
01 July 2005

Next review date 7/1/2013



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