What is Asthma?

Asthma is an inflammatory condition of the airways. Although the cause of asthma is not completely understood, it is known that people with asthma often have a family history of asthma, eczema and hay fever (allergic rhinitis).

People with asthma tend to have sensitive airways.  If you have asthma, you may notice that certain things can trigger your asthma symptoms.  When exposed to a certain trigger, the airway walls begin to swell (inflame), build up mucus and tighten (constrict).   This makes it harder for you to breathe and can cause a range of symptoms such as feeling breathless, wheezing, chest tightness and a dry persistent cough, particularly at night, early in the morning or with exercise or after activity. 

Living with asthma can be difficult, yet with the right advice, support and medicines, it is usually possible to control symptom frequency and severity, and achieve good asthma control.

What can Trigger Asthma?
As mentioned above, an asthma trigger is anything that irritates your airways and causes swelling (inflammation) and narrowing in the tubes of your airways.  Although there are some common asthma triggers, everyone is different.  Thus, it is important to identify what triggers your asthma, and work out the best plan to avoid or control them.

Asthma triggers can be grouped into two groups: allergic triggers and non-allergic triggers.   Some of the common allergic and non-allergic triggers are listed below.

Allergic Triggers

  • Pollen of grasses or trees
  • Food or beverages
  • House dust mites
  • Moulds
  • Animal dander, saliva and urine

For further information and tips to help you avoid these triggers, please see ‘Hayfever Triggers’.

Non-Allergic Triggers

  • Infections (such as the common cold) or certain medical conditions (such as gastro-oesophageal reflux disease).  It is important to treat any infections or medical conditions promptly with an appropriate treatment to reduce the chance of it affecting your asthma.
  • Weather changes (in particular thunderstorms, cold and dry winter air).   Wearing a scarf to loosely cover your nose or mouth can help warm the air that you breathe before it enters your lungs. Try and stay warm where possible, and see your GP or Ramsay Pharmacist if you have asthma symptoms more than twice a week.
  • Exercise.  Staying active is important, so always warm up with light exercise for 10 to 15 minutes before you play sport or exercise.  Ask your GP if you should be using your reliever medication 5 to 10 minutes before warm up, and keep it on hand after you finish exercising .
  • Outdoor air pollution. Use recirculated air in your car, rather than having the windows down, especially when driving through highly polluted areas or traffic. 
  • Certain medications. Examples include aspirin and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication , such as ibuprofen.  Whilst not all people with asthma are affected by anti-inflammatory medication, ask your Doctor or Ramsay Pharmacist if you think that any of the medication you are taking may be triggering your asthma.
  • Indoor air pollution, such as cigarette smoke, cleaning products, hairspray and perfume.  Avoid smoking or others smoking indoors.  Use a mask and gloves when cleaning and using cleaning products.  
  • Irritants found in the workplace, such as wood dust, flour and industrial chemicals. Wear a mask when working with workplace irritants.
  • Stress and intense emotions.  Learn and practice stress relieving techniques.

To help you identify what your asthma triggers are, keep a diary of the times and situations when your asthma is worse.    Once you have a clear idea of the things that might be making your asthma worse, make a plan to help you control or avoid these triggers.  Your Doctor can also help you determine which triggers affect your asthma and can help to determine if allergy plays a role in your asthma.