Asthma and allergies
Who gets asthma?
Anyone can get asthma, although it tends to run in families. According to Asthma UK 5.4 million people in the UK are currently receiving treatment for asthma. The disease is reportedly becoming more widespread.
What causes asthma?
Asthma is a problem in the airways due to multiple factors. The airways in a person with asthma are very sensitive and react to many things, which are referred to as triggers. Coming into contact with these triggers often produces asthma symptoms.
There are many kinds of asthma triggers. Reactions are different for each person and vary from time to time. Some people have many triggers while others have none that they can identify. One of the most important aspects of asthma control is avoiding triggers when possible.
Common asthma triggers include:
- Infections: colds, flu, sinus infections.
- Exercise: very common in children*.
- Weather: cold air, changes in temperature.
- Tobacco smoke and air pollution.
- Allergens: substances that cause allergic reactions in the lungs, including house dust mite dung, pollens, pets, mould spores, foods, and cockroaches.
- Dust or items causing dust.
- Strong odours from chemical products.
- Strong emotions: things such as anxiety, crying, yelling, or laughing hard.
- Medicines: including aspirin, ibuprofen, and beta blocker medications used to treat conditions including high blood pressure, migraines, or glaucoma.
Note: exercise is one trigger you should not avoid. With a good treatment plan, you can exercise as long and as much as desired, except during an asthma attack.
How is asthma diagnosed?
Doctors can use a number of tests to diagnose asthma. First, your GP reviews your medical history, symptoms, and general health. Next, tests may be given to check the general condition of your lungs, including:
- Chest X-ray in which a picture of the lungs is taken.
- Pulmonary function test (spirometry): measures how well the lungs can take in air and how well this air can be exhaled (lung function).
- Peak expiratory flow (PEF): measures the maximum amount of air that can be exhaled from the lungs. The patient blows into a hand-held device called a peak flow meter.
- Methacholine challenge test: used to assess if the airways are sensitive to methacholine, an irritant that tightens the airways.
- Other tests, such as allergy tests, blood tests, sinus X-rays and other imaging scans, and oesophageal (throat) pH tests may also be advised. These tests can help your doctor find out if other conditions are affecting your asthma.
How is asthma treated?
By avoiding asthma triggers, taking medicines, and carefully monitoring daily asthma symptoms, asthma attacks can be avoided or at least limited. Proper use of medicines is the basis of good asthma control. Medicines used to treat asthma include bronchodilators, anti-inflammatories, and leukotriene receptor antagonists.