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Asthma Fact Sheet

By: Helena Stratford - Updated: 6 Aug 2013 | comments*Discuss
Asthma Breathing Allergies Eczema

The word Asthma means ‘sharp breath’ or ‘difficult breathing’ and was first described as a medical condition by Hippocrates, so it’s not a new phenomenon.

What is harder to understand is that all these years later, scientists are still uncertain as to why it develops and more particularly why it has increased to affect 5.2 million people in Britain today.

What Is Asthma?

Asthma is a condition that affects the airways. When an attack is triggered, the passages which lead to the lungs are irritated and provoke a swelling and restriction of the airways, often further blocked by mucus.

Due to these conditions, breathing becomes difficult and laboured with symptoms such as wheezing, coughing, and tightness in the chest. In severe cases, it is very hard for the sufferer to take a breath and an attack can be therefore very distressing and possibly fatal.

Causes Of Asthma

The exact causes of asthma are unknown, although it does seem that you are more likely to get it if there is already a history of asthma, eczema or allergies in the family, so there could be some genetic predisposition involved.

Other causes include irritants in the atmosphere such as allergens caused by dust mites, pollen, cat dander and so on.

Chemicals are also believed to cause asthma and is a reason put forward as to why there has been a big increase in the incidence of asthma in recent years.

Smoking also plays a part, with children of parents who smoke being much more likely to develop asthma, than children of non-smoking parents.

Triggers For Asthma

An asthma attack can be triggered by a number of things which might irritate the airways or cause allergic reactions.

There are many different triggers but common ones include: dust, feathers, mould spores, pollen, smoke, animals, certain foods, chemicals, and viral infections.

To help control your asthma, it is important to try to determine what your particular triggers are and then, where possible, reduce your exposure to them.


There are many different treatments and medicines available to help treat asthma and it is important that your doctor advises you and works with you to find the best possible treatment.

The main immediate treatment used for asthma is an inhaler. This instrument can be used at the onset of an attack to quickly relieve the symptoms and allow for ease of breath.

If your asthma is severe, you may also be prescribed a preventative inhaler which delivers medicine to your airways to help to prevent over-sensitivity.

In both instances, it is very important that you use your inhaler correctly and if in doubt, should make an appointment to see your GP – as you should also do if you are not managing your asthma well, the medicine isn’t agreeing with you or you wish to try any alternative remedies.

Asthma Facts And Figures

  • Over five million people in the UK suffer from asthma; and for half of them, the symptoms are serious and debilitating.
  • There is an asthma sufferer in every 5 houses in the UK.
  • 40% of sufferers develop the condition during adulthood.
  • If a woman smokes while she is pregnant, she increases the likelihood of her child having breathing problems by 50%.
  • 1,400 people die of asthma each year. Of these deaths, two thirds are preventable.
  • The rise in asthma in Britain has been called an ‘epidemic’.
  • Incidences of asthma are very high in developed countries but low in poorer countries.
  • Scientists still do not know the exact causes of asthma.

More Information

For more information, help and advice, please follow the link to the charitable organisation Asthma UK. www.asthma.org.uk

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