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Understanding Asthma

Asthma is a common condition that affects the lungs and the airways that service the lungs. In asthma, the airways become over-sensitive and react to things that wouldn’t usually cause a problem, such as cold air or dust.

When the airways react to a substance, the muscles of the tube walls tighten up, making the airways narrow and leaving little room for air to flow in and out. The lining of the airways then gets swollen and sticky mucus is produced which clogs up the breathing passages.

With so little space in the airways, it becomes difficult for air to move in and out and the chest has to work much harder to breathe. Tightening of the muscles around the airways can happen quickly; this is the most common cause of mild asthma symptoms.

Thankfully, this tightness can be relieved quickly with a reliever inhaler. However, the swelling and mucus happen more slowly and need a different treatment. This usually is usually a preventer inhaler which is taken daily to allow the effect to build up over time. 

The majority of people with asthma are prescribed a daily preventer inhaler to protect against an asthma attack and a reliever inhaler to use when symptoms occur. It is extremely important that preventer medication is taken regularly, as prescribed, and even when asthma symptoms are not present.

Causes of Asthma

We still don't know the exact cause of asthma, but we do know that:

  • Anyone can develop asthma, but it is particularly common in Ireland, where over 380,000 adults and children have the condition.
  • Asthma often begins in childhood, but it can develop at any age.
  • Asthma runs in families e.g., if you have parents or siblings with asthma then you are more likely to have it yourself.
  • If you or your family members have allergies, you are more likely to develop asthma.
  • Adult-onset asthma can develop after a respiratory tract infection like a cold, flu, or chest infection.
  • It's thought that modern changes to housing, diet, and cleanliness may have contributed to the rise in asthma over the last few decades.
  • Asthma is not infectious.
  • Smoking during pregnancy or exposing a child to tobacco smoke will increase their risk of developing asthma.
  • Being overweight increases the risk of developing asthma.
  • Some children lose their symptoms as they grow older but asthma is a chronic disease so it never goes away, and symptoms can come back later in life.