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Asthma

Asthma is a common condition where your airways swell and narrow, producing excess mucus, causing breathing difficulties.

Asthma typically presents in childhood, however, it can appear at any stage in life. At present in England alone, 5.4 million people receive asthma treatment. This equates to roughly one adult in 12 living with the condition. And one child in 11.

For some people, asthma is only a mild inconvenience. For others it can be a major health concern that interrupts daily life and can lead to a life threatening asthma attack.

While asthma itself can't be cured, there are ways to control symptoms and limit asthma attacks with breathing exercises and asthma medications, including combination inhalers.

Because asthma can evolve over time, it's important to work with your doctor or asthma nurse to monitor your symptoms and adjust your medicine as and when required.

What is an asthma attack?

When symptoms get gradually or suddenly worse, this is known as an asthma attack. Severe asthma attacks can require hospitalisation because they can be life threatening.

Symptoms of an asthma attack include:

-breathing difficulties
-tight chest
-wheezing
-reliever inhaler not working
-peak flow rate is lower than normal

What to do if you have an asthma attack

-Sit upright and try to keep calm
-Take one inhale (puff) of your reliever inhaler every 30 seconds for 10 inhales (puffs).
-If you don't feel better after the 10 inhales, call an ambulance.
-If the ambulance is not with you in 10 minutes, repeat step two.
-If you have an asthma attack you should always see your doctor or asthma nurse within 48 hours. One in six people who have an asthma attack will relapse within two weeks, so you need to reduce your risk factors.

Severe asthma

While doctors don't agree on the firm definition of severe asthma, the WHO puts it into three categories:

1. Untreatable asthma
2. Difficult to treat asthma
3. Therapy resistant asthma

Severe asthma symptoms are similar to other asthma symptoms, except they tend to be more intense and can be life threatening because they can be difficult to control with regular asthma treatments.

Complications of uncontrolled asthma

Poorly controlled asthma can cause long term consequences:

-Airway damage
-Reduced lung function
-Disrupted sleep
-Pregnancy complications
-Severe asthma attack
-Increased risk of infections

What are the causes of asthma?

Asthma happens when the bronchi, the small tubes which carry air into and out of our lungs become inflamed by a trigger. The airways narrow, the muscles in your chest tighten and your body increases its production of phlegm.

Why some people develop asthma is not known, but you're more likely to get it if there's a family history of the condition.

The asthma cause will vary from person to person, but common triggers include:

-Exercise induced asthma - asthma attacks are brought on by exercise, with exposure to cold air making symptoms worse.
-Occupational asthma - asthma is triggered by irritants at work, for example, dust mites or air pollution.
-Allergy triggers - asthma is brought on by exposure to pollen, pet dander, food allergies etc.
-Medicines - non-steroidal anti inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
-Emotions - laughter and stress can both cause an attack
-Weather conditions - a sudden change in temperature, or humidity, for example.

Symptoms of asthma

Asthma symptoms can be different in each person. You may experience all of them, or you may only have one at a certain time, i.e. when you come into contact with pet dander.

Signs and symptoms of asthma include:

-Breathlessness
-Chest tightness
-Pain in the chest
-Wheezing
-Trouble sleeping due to breathing difficulties
-Coughing or wheezing exacerbated by respiratory virus

Signs and symptoms your asthma is getting worse:

-Asthma