Asthma Risk Factors, Symptoms and Treatments

What is Asthma?

Asthma is a common long term health condition. People with asthma have sensitive airways that become inflamed and tighten when they breathe in anything which will increase the risk of asthma such as exposure to harmful irritants such as smoking and air pollution.

The way in which asthma functions is your airways carry air in and out of your lungs. If you have asthma they become very sensitive. Certain factors such as environmental trigger the muscles around your airways to tighten, making your airways narrower. The airway lining also becomes inflamed causing a build up of sputum. This makes your airways even narrower. With narrow airways it makes it more difficult to get air in and out of your lungs.

In the UK around 5.4 million people suffer from asthma. This is about 1.1 million children and 4.3 million adults; it can progress at any stage and can easily be inherited from families. In 2015 there were a total of 1424 asthma related deaths in England, Wales and Scotland and in 2016 there were a total of 1370 asthma related deaths in England, Wales and Scotland.

asthma diagram



What are the Risk Factors of Asthma?

• Asthma is caused by inflammation swelling of the breathing tubes that carry air in and out of the lungs. This inflammation makes the breathing tubes highly sensitive, so they temporarily become narrow. This may occur randomly, or after exposure to a trigger.

• Allergens, such as house dust mites, animal fur, pollens

• Other irritants such as cigarette smoking, strong smells, gases, cold air, air pollution (in and around built up industrial areas)

• Exertion

• Exercise

• Chest infections

• Genetics- the condition can be inherited if other family members are also affected

• Traffic pollution

• Smoking

• Passive Smoking

• 80% of people with asthma report that their symptoms are triggered by pollen

• Common both in children and adults

• Workplace can trigger asthma such as building sites, baking, spray painting, hairdressing, working with animals etc.

What are the Symptoms of Asthma?

• Wheezing

• Breathlessness

• Tight chest

• Chest pain

• Coughing

risk factors of asthmasymptoms of asthma

If you do experience any of the above symptoms


What are the Symptoms of an Asthma attack?

• Severe Wheezing, coughing and chest tightness constant

• Very Rapid breathing

• Very Rapid heartbeat

• Dizziness

• Fainting

• Worsening symptoms

• Your reliever isn’t helping or you are needing it less than every 4 hours

• You find it difficult to sleep, eat and speak due to breathlessness

How can you reduce your risk of an Asthma Attack?

• Take your asthma medicines exactly as prescribed even if you are not getting any symptoms, or you are getting very few or mild symptoms.

• Asthma action plan

• Don’t smoke

• Healthy lifestyle

• Asthma reviews with your GP keeping a diary of your symptoms so you have a clearer understanding of how to manage them better

• Avoid triggers  

reliever inhalersasthmatic

What to do in asthma attack

• Sit up straight don’t lie down and try to keep calm.

• Take one puff of your reliever inhaler every 30-60 seconds, up to a maximum of 10 puffs.

• If you feel the attack is getting to a serious point it may be best to call 111 (nhs choices) to be advised about what to do further and how to manage the attack or call 999 if you feel you need to be admitted to hospital.

What is a Peak Flow Test?

A peak flow test is a simple measurement of how quickly you can blow air out of your lungs. It is often used to help diagnose and monitor asthma. This involves blowing as hard as you can into a small, hand held device called a peak flow meter. These are available on prescription or can be purchased from pharmacies.

The reason why peak flow is measured is to measure how fast you are able to breathe out, with your peak flow score indicating whether your airways are narrowed. This could be an indication that you have asthma. If you already have asthma then measuring your peak flow regularly is a way of managing your condition. Your score indicates whether or not your asthma condition is worsening.

In order to measure your peak flow you must do the following

• Find a comfortable position, either standing or sitting

• Ensure the meter is set at 0, your fingers are not obstructing the measuring scale, and the meter is held horizontality

• Breathe in as deeply as you can and place your lips tightly around the mouthpiece

• Breathe out as quickly and as hard as you can

• When finished breathing out, keep a record of your reading

• This should be repeated three times to get an accurate measurement Your peak flow score is displayed on the side of your peak flow meter. This is given in litres of air breathed out per minute (l/min). The score depends on your name, age, gender and height.

What Treatments are Available for Asthma? 

Reliever inhalers- usually blue they are taken only when needed to relieve asthma symptoms quickly. They normally contain a medicine known as a short acting beta2-agonist, which widens the airways and makes breathing easier. They usually work for up to 15 minutes. Reliever inhalers should be issued to everyone who suffers from asthma to help ease the symptoms of condition and should not be used too often.

Preventer inhalers- usually brown or orange these are used twice a day or occasionally once a day to stop asthma symptoms from occurring. They contain inhaled steroid medication, which works by reducing inflammation swelling and sensitivity of the airways. They are usually recommended if you experience asthma symptoms more than twice a week. It is important to use preventer inhalers regularly even if you don’t experience symptoms as much to help keep the inflammation and breathing tubes under control.

There are various asthma treatments available