The causes of asthma are not entirely clear, although there is almost certainly a genetic link, with risk increasing if one or two of your parents have the condition. Other factors known to increase our risk include a family history of other allergic conditions (known as atopic conditions) such as eczema, food allergies or hay fever, having another atopic condition, having a lung infection as a child, being exposed to tobacco smoke as a child (particularly if your mother smoked during pregnancy), being born prematurely and having a low birth weight.
There can be many things that can set off asthma, and triggers may change throughout your life. Common triggers include:
flu, colds or other viral infections
laughing or getting excited
depression or anxiety
irritants such as cigarette smoke, cold air, perfumes and chemical fumes
foods containing sulphites (e.g. fruit juice, jam, prawns, many processed or pre-cooked meals and certain wines)
What to look out for
Symptoms of asthma include:
feeling breathless (gasping for breath)
a tight chest, like a band tightening around it
wheezing, which makes a whistling sound when you breathe
coughing frequently, particularly at night and early morning
attacks triggered by exercise, exposure to allergens and other triggers
Asthma can be managed well and if controlled effectively, it can have minimal affects on your everyday life. Your doctor will be able to work with you to prescribe an effective treatment plan based on the severity of your symptoms – this may involve taking medicines, using preventative or relief inhalers, and sometimes using alternative therapies such as acupuncture, homeopathy or learning specific breathing techniques.
Asthma should not prevent you doing the things you enjoy – if it is affecting your wellbeing speak to your doctor to see if you can modify your treatment plan or look at alternative ways to reduce your discomfort and increase your quality of life.
Written by Ruth Tongue