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Asthma Overhanging boy

A person with asthma has airways that are more sensitive than usual, which makes breathing more difficult than normal.

How common is asthma?

Asthma is very common, and one in 11 children is diagnosed with it. Asthma can start at any age (including babies), but it is most common in school-age children.

We don’t know why one person gets asthma and another person doesn’t, but we do know that if anyone else in your family has asthma, eczema or allergies, you are more likely to develop it. If your parents smoke or if you live in a smoky environment, you are also more likely to have asthma.

Brain Borg
Did You Know?
Brain borg In the UK, about two children in every class in school have asthma.

What are the symptoms of asthma?

The most common symptoms are:

  • Coughing
  • Wheezing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Feeling of tightness in the chest – some people describe it as feeling as though an elephant is sitting on their chest

What causes a flare-up?

Lots of things cause a flare-up, and sometimes it is not always possible to find the cause. Different things affect different people. Some of the most common triggers are:

  • Furry animals
  • Pollen
  • Cigarette smoke
  • Dust mites
  • Colds and viral infections
  • The weather
  • Certain foods, like milk, eggs, nuts and fish, may cause an attack in some people
  • Moulds
  • Some people may find that they become wheezy when they exercise

What happens during an asthma attack?

During an asthma attack, the airways become swollen, making it harder for air to get in and out of the lungs. It can feel a bit like trying to breathe in and out through a straw. Sometimes extra mucus is produced, which makes it harder to breathe.

In between attacks, breathing can seem to be normal.

How is asthma treated?

There are lots of different treatments for asthma, and your doctor or nurse will help to decide which is the best for you.

There are two main types of medicine that are used – ‘reliever’ medicines that help when you are having an attack and ‘preventer’ medicines that make it less likely that you’ll have an attack. Both are usually given using an inhaler.

If your doctor or nurse has given you a preventer inhaler, it is really important that you carry on taking it even if you feel well. Don’t stop taking it without talking to your doctor or nurse, and ask your parent or carer to order another one before it runs out.

The doctor or nurse will explain how to use your inhaler. Make sure you let them know if the medicines don’t seem to be working or if you are using it more than usual.

Asthma and school

If you have asthma, tell your teacher at school and make sure they know what medicine you are taking, and if you need to use it before doing P.E.

If you have an inhaler, carry it with you or check it is nearby at all times.

Check it is:

  • Labelled with your name
  • In date
  • With you if you go on any trips
  • Used in the way you’ve been shown

Find out more at Asthma UK or Itchy Sneezy Wheezy.

Riddle me this!
What are the two types of asthma medicine?
Quiz girl
Quiz girl
Quiz girl
Nurse holding image
You should still remember to take your reliever inhaler with you even if you feel well.
Nurse holding image

Page last reviewed: 29-10-2018

Next review due: 29-10-2021