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First in a 3 part series discussing Asthma - this week - causes - symptoms - triggers

Posted by Eamonn Brady on

Asthma Part 1


Asthma is a long-term condition that can cause a cough, wheezing and breathlessness. The severity of the symptoms varies from person to person.




With asthma, the airways become over-sensitive and react to stimuli that would normally not cause a problem, such as cold air or dust. Muscles around the wall of the airway tighten up, making it narrow and difficult for air to flow in and out. The lining of the airway’s swells, and sticky mucus is produced. This makes it difficult for air to move in and out. Tightening of muscle around the airways can happen quickly and is the most common cause of mild asthma. The tightening of muscle can be relieved with a reliever inhaler. However, the swelling and build-up of mucus happen more slowly and need a different treatment. This takes longer to clear up and is a serious problem in moderate to severe asthma.


There is a strong genetic link. If a parent has asthma, the risk of their child getting it doubles. If both parents have it, it doubles again.


Asthmatics who also have hay fever find that their symptoms get worse during hay fever symptoms. Between 60 and 80% of asthma asthmatics also experience hay fever.




  • Difficulty in breathing/shortness of breath.
  • A tight feeling in the chest.
  • Wheezing (a whistling noise in the chest).
  • Coughing, particularly at night.
  • Hoarseness

These symptoms may occur in episodes, perhaps brought on by colds or chest infections, exercise, change of temperature, dust, or other irritants in the air, or by an allergy e.g., pollen or animals. Episodes at night are common, often affecting sleep.

Common triggers                                                                                                  

Anything that irritates the airways and brings on the symptoms of asthma is called a trigger. Common triggers include house dust mites, animal fur, pollen, tobacco smoke, exercise, cold air and chest infections. Other triggers which are less common include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen and diclofenac, emotional factors such as stress, sulphites in some foods and drinks (found in certain wines and used as a preservative in some foods such as fruit juices and jam), mould or damp in houses and food allergies (eg) nut allergy. 

Many asthmatics find their symptoms worsen during hay fever season. This is due to the fact that hay fever causes the airways that are already inflamed to swell up even more, thus exacerbating breathlessness. The same substances that are triggers for hay fever (allergic rhinitis) such as pollen, dust mites and pet dander are also triggers for asthma, so the two conditions are intrinsically linked. As well as hay fever, many asthmatics also suffer from other allergic conditions such as eczema and hives.


To be continued…next week


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