What is asthma?

Asthma is a very common condition - it affects around 5 million people in the UK or 1 in 12 of us. Asthma affects the breathing tubes, which carry air in and out of the lungs. Asthma makes these tubes tighter in 3 ways: -


  1. Tightening of the muscle in the airway wall.
  2. Inflammation/swelling of the airway wall.
  3. Increased mucus (phlegm) in the airway.


These 3 things act together to reduce the air flow into your lungs. This has the effect of making your chest feel tight or wheezy and can make you cough and feel breathless. Symptoms can often be worse overnight and the early morning.


Some people with asthma have certain triggers such as pets, housedust or pollen. Other times, asthma may be provoked by non-allergic triggers such as cold air, colds/sore throats, fumes and pollution (including cigarettes).


Asthma can run in families and may co-exist with other allergic diseases such as eczema and hay fever.

Diagnosis of asthma

There is no single test such as a blood test that will confirm or exclude asthma. Usually the diagnosis of asthma is based upon listening closely to your symptoms and history then perform a physical examination. This would be followed by some blowing tests to see how much puff you have in your lungs. There are various ways of doing this: -


  • Peak flow diary: this is a record you keep at home of a best blowing test in the morning & evening, typically for 14 days. The amount of day-to-day variation helps me to decide how much spasm your airways have experienced in that period. However, the test may be normal sometines.


  • Spirometry: this is a more detailed breathing test and requires that you breath out as hard as you can for as long as you can into a machine called a spirometer. This can help decide whether your airways are tight or 'obstructed'. This can be done at the same time as your appointment.


  • Chest X-ray: a quick X-ray of your chest may be carried out to ensure that your lungs appear normal and that there is nothing else obvious that might be causing your symptoms. This can be done when you come for your clinic appointment.


  • Blood tests: You might have some blood tests to look for allergies and to check your blood count


Please note that this information is for information purposes only and cannot be construed as medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor if you have any concerns regarding asthma.




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