What is asthma?

The Greek meaning of Asthma (ásthma) is gasp; it is a common chronic inflammatory disease of the airways of the lungs (the bronchi) that causes them to become inflamed and swollen. Symptoms include wheezing, coughing, chest tightness, and shortness of breath.

The bronchi are small tubes that carry air in and out of your lungs. If you have asthma, the bronchi are more sensitive than normal and certain substances or triggers can irritate them.

Common triggers include house dust mites, animal fur, pollen, tobacco smoke, cold air and chest infections.

When the bronchi are irritated, they become narrow and the muscles around them tighten, which can increase the production of sticky mucus, or phlegm. This makes it difficult to breathe and causes wheezing and coughing, and it may make your chest feel tight.

The severity of the symptoms of asthma differs from person to person, from mild to severe. The narrowing of the airways is usually reversible – occurring naturally, or through the use of medicines. However, for some people with chronic (long-lasting) asthma, the inflammation may lead to an irreversible obstruction of the airways.

A severe onset of symptoms is known as an asthma attack, or 'acute asthma exacerbation'. Asthma attacks can be life-threatening and may require hospital treatment.

  • 5.4m people in the UK are currently receiving treatment for asthma.
  • 1.1m children in the UK are currently receiving treatment for asthma.
  • There is a person with asthma in one in five households in the UK.

This Site

This site is intended to help you understand more about asthma and how it can affect your health. The information here is drawn from a variety of recognised and renowned medical sources. The information contained on this site is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your doctor or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

What you need to know about asthma
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