It affects people of all ages and often starts in childhood, although it can also develop for the first time in adults.
There’s currently no cure, but there are simple treatments that can help keep the symptoms under control so it does not have a big impact on your life.
Causes and triggers of asthma
Asthma is caused by swelling (inflammation) of the breathing tubes that carry air in and out of the lungs. This makes the tubes highly sensitive, so they temporarily narrow.
It may happen randomly or after exposure to a trigger.
Common asthma triggers include:
- allergies (to house dust mites, animal fur or pollen, for example)
- smoke, pollution and cold air
- infections like colds or flu
Identifying and avoiding your asthma triggers can help you keep your symptoms under control.
Treatments for asthma
Asthma is usually treated by using an inhaler, a small device that lets you breathe in medicines.
The main types are:
- reliever inhalers – used when needed to quickly relieve asthma symptoms for a short time
- preventer inhalers – used every day to prevent asthma symptoms happening
Some people also need to take tablets.
Complications of asthma
Although asthma can normally be kept under control, it’s still a serious condition that can cause a number of problems.
This is why it’s important to follow your treatment plan and not ignore your symptoms if they’re getting worse.
Badly controlled asthma can cause problems such as:
- feeling tired all the time
- underperformance at, or absence from, work or school
- stress, anxiety or depression
- disruption of your work and leisure because of unplanned visits to a GP or hospital
- lung infections (pneumonia)
- delays in growth or puberty in children
There’s also a risk of severe asthma attacks, which can be life threatening.
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- emphysema – damage to the air sacs in the lungs
- chronic bronchitis – long-term inflammation of the airways
COPD is a common condition that mainly affects middle-aged or older adults who smoke. Many people do not realise they have it.
The breathing problems tend to get gradually worse over time and can limit your normal activities, although treatment can help keep the condition under control.
Causes of COPD
COPD happens when the lungs become inflamed, damaged and narrowed. The main cause is smoking, although the condition can sometimes affect people who have never smoked.
The likelihood of developing COPD increases the more you smoke and the longer you’ve smoked.
Some cases of COPD are caused by long-term exposure to harmful fumes or dust. Others are the result of a rare genetic problem that makes the lungs more vulnerable to damage.
Treatments for COPD
The damage to the lungs caused by COPD is permanent, but treatment can help slow down the progression of the condition.
- stopping smoking -if you have COPD and you smoke, this is the most important thing you can do
- inhalers and medicines – to help make breathing easier
- pulmonary rehabilitation – a specialised programme of exercise and education
- surgery or a lung transplant – although this is only an option for a very small number of people
COPD is largely a preventable condition. You can significantly reduce your chances of developing it if you avoid smoking.
If you already smoke, stopping can help prevent further damage to your lungs before it starts to cause troublesome symptoms.
Please visit our staff wellbeing pages on stopping smoking if you would like support to quit smoking.