Asthma is an inflammatory disease of the airways characterised by common symptoms such as: wheezing, coughing, tightening chest and shortness of breath. The word asthma is derived from the Greek, meaning: - panting.
5.4 million people in the UK are currently receiving treatment for asthma; 1.1 million children (1 in 11) and 4.3 million adults (1 in 12).
When an asthmatic comes into contact with an asthma trigger - something that irritates their airways - the muscles around the walls of the airways narrow and the lining of the airways starts to swell. Mucus and phlegm can also start to build up, narrowing the airways even further.
These cause the symptoms of asthma, making it difficult for the sufferer to breathe. Symptoms are often worse at night and in the early mornings.
Asthma is thought to be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors, although the precise interaction between the two is not yet fully understood. But you are more likely to develop asthma if you have a family history of asthma, eczema or allergies in general. For instance, if one identical twin is asthmatic the chances of the other twin developing it are 25%.
Modern lifestyle is thought to have influenced the rise in asthma over the last few years. In the UK, the rise is more than half a million with 5.4 million people are currently receiving treatment for asthma; that’s 1.1 million children (1 in 11) and 4.3 million adults (1 in 12).
Changes in hygiene and diet may play a significant role in the development of asthma today. Children whose parents smoke or whose mother’s smoked during pregnancy are more prone to it but it can also develop in adult life (Adult Onset Asthma), either after a viral infection or in response to an irritant in the workplace, such as in Occupational Asthma.
There are also a number of asthma triggers, some of the more common being: -
Stress can trigger and exacerbate symptoms, both indoors and outdoors.
New research also indicates that food can play a much bigger part in the development of asthma and allergies than was previously thought possible.
Asthma rates in the UK have doubled in the last 20 years.
Yet asthma does not only affect children. Late onset adult asthma can strike out of the blue at any age and appears to have a wide variety of possible causes including genetic linkage, viral infections, existing allergies hay-fever and work environments filled with asthma triggers.
Research indicates that the workplace has a greater influence on the development of adult asthma than smoking. A recent study has identified 18 jobs linked to an increased risk of developing asthma as an adult. 4 of the 18 were cleaning jobs, with others on the list including: -
However, smoking does have a serious impact, too. In the first year after the ban on smoking in public places came into effect in July 2007, the asthma rate in children dropped by 12.3%.
Sadly, there is not yet a cure for asthma but symptoms can be alleviated with a combination of the right medication, avoiding known triggers and building an individual treatment and management plan with your doctor or nurse.
People who do not have a written personal treatment plan are four times more likely to have an asthma attack requiring emergency treatment.
• Asthma UK provide helpful resources for every stage of your asthma journey and advice for everyone coping with an asthma diagnosis, including the Asthma UK Helpline: http://www.asthma.org.uk/