What should you know about asthma?

Asthma is a common long-term condition that can cause coughing, wheezing, chest tightness and breathlessness.

It is caused by inflammation of the small tubes, or bronchi, which carry air in and out of the lungs. The inflammation can be triggered by a number of things, from an allergic reaction to irritation. The most common triggers are:

  • exercise
  • pollen
  • house dust mites
  • animal fur
  • cigarette smoke
  • viral infections

One in 12 adults and one in every 11 children in the UK currently receives treatment for asthma. That is around 5.4 million people.

Careful management of the condition can result in the symptoms being controlled, although their severity varies from person to person.

An ‘asthma attack’ is when the symptoms gradually or suddenly get worse to the point where a person with asthma struggles to breathe. These can result in hospital treatment and in the most severe cases they can be life-threatening.

What can you do to prevent it and improve your self-care?

The exact cause of asthma is unknown. However, research suggests there are a number of things that can increase your chances of developing it. These include:

  • a family history of asthma or related allergic conditions (known as atopic conditions) such as eczemafood allergy or hay fever
  • having another atopic condition yourself
  • having bronchiolitis (a common childhood lung infection) as a child
  • exposure to tobacco smoke as a child
  • your mother smoking during pregnancy 
  • being born prematurely or with a low birth weight

Some people may also be at risk of developing asthma through their job.

While most of these factors are beyond an individual's control, there are a few ways that someone can minimise their risk of asthma developing. It also demonstrates how a person's health and lifestyle choices can impact on others, particularly their children.

Contact details for local sources of help.

See the contact details for the lifestyle matters section of our website.

Asthma UK

Working to stop asthma attacks and, ultimately, cure asthma by funding world leading research and scientists, campaigning for change and supporting people with asthma to reduce their risk of a potentially life threatening asthma attack.


Speak to an asthma expert nurse on the helpline - 0300 222 5800, between 9am and 5pm, Monday to Friday.

Visit their contact page for more ways of getting in touch.

British Lung Foundation

The only UK charity looking after the nation’s lungs, working towards a day when everyone breathes clean air with healthy lungs.

Find local asthma support here.

What if you already have asthma?

Treatment for asthma involves two activities:

  • relieving symptoms
  • identifying triggers to help prevent future symptoms and attacks

This approach consists largely of using medication to tackle any emerging symptoms and adjusting your lifestyle to reduce the risk of triggering your asthma.

If you have asthma you should have a personal action plan agreed with your doctor or nurse and this should include information on the medicines you need to take, how to recognise if your symptoms are getting worse and what to do if/when they do.

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