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Asthma is a permanent inflammatory disease of the airways to the lungs, which can cause many health complaints. The lungs respond very sensitively to triggers such as smoke, dust mites, animals, and exhaust fumes. These can make someone with asthma cough or feel very stuffy. Asthma is usually easy to treat with medication in combination with abiding by health advice, such as not smoking and keeping active. According to the Global Asthma Report 2018, 339.4 million people are estimated to be affected by asthma worldwide.

Medically reviewed by Prof. Dr. O. Patho on December 17, 2018


  • Information

    What is asthma?

    Asthma, or bronchial asthma, is an (often hereditary) chronic inflammation of the lungs in which the mucous membranes are permanently irritated. This causes hypersensitivity in the small airways of the lungs. These small airways react strongly to all kinds of triggers, causing the airways to narrow and resulting in swelling of the mucous membrane and the secretion of extra mucus. This makes it much more difficult for the air to pass, which creates a stuffy feeling.

    What are the symptoms?

    Asthma symptoms are virtually the same for every form of the disease. It’s only the extent of the symptoms which occur that is likely to vary:

    • Wheezing
    • Coughing
    • Feeling stuffy and short of breath
    • Swelling of mucous membranes in the nose, throat and lungs
    • Mucous membranes produce more fluid than usual

    What are the possible causes?

    Asthmas characteristically results in bouts of breathlessness and wheezy breathing. A sudden attack can be brought on by forgetting to take medication, through a faulty inhalation technique, or by exposure to a trigger event. Someone with asthma soon becomes short of breath. The symptoms worsen whenever a patient has been in contact with stimuli to which they are hypersensitive.

    Other possible triggers for asthma include:

    • Illness
    • Overexertion
    • Irritants in the air
    • Allergic triggers
    • Changes of weather and temperature
    • Emotions

    If asthma is triggered by an allergic stimulus, it can also be known as allergic asthma. Allergic asthma is a common condition. With this form of asthma, substances are inhaled which then cause an allergic reaction. For example:

    • House dust mites
    • Cat and dog hairs
    • Grass pollen
    • Dust

    Asthma is hereditary, which means asthma or related conditions such as eczema and hay fever often occur within a family group.

    How is the diagnosis determined?

    A doctor can make the diagnosis based on the symptoms. If the symptoms are present as described, then it can be assumed that an asthma diagnosis should be made.

    However, if it becomes clear that there is also a chronic problem, further investigation of other physical problems may be necessary. Once a diagnosis has been established, treatment can then be prescribed.

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