Asthma is a condition that affects the airways - the small tubes that carry air in and out of the lungs. With asthma, the airways become over-sensitive and react to things 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 the air to flow in and out.
The lining of the airways gets swollen (just like your nose during a cold) and sticky mucus is produced, clogging up the breathing passages. With the airways narrowed like this, you can see why it becomes difficult for air to move in and out and why the chest has to work so much. Tightening of muscle around the airways can happen quickly and is the most common cause of mild asthma. It can be relieved quickly too, with the right inhaler. However, the swelling and mucus happen more slowly and need a different treatment. They take longer to clear up and are a particular problem in serious episodes of asthma.
What causes Asthma?
No one knows exactly what causes asthma. What we do know is:
- Anyone can develop asthma. It is very common in Ireland, where over 470,000 adults and children have asthma.
- It can start at any time of life, although it most often begins in childhood.
- Sometimes it affects several family members e.g. if you have parents or brothers and sisters with asthma or allergy (e.g. Eczema or hay fever) you are more likely to have it yourself.
- Conditions like hay-fever, eczema, or hives, which are usually the result of allergy, may occur along with Asthma.
- Adult onset asthma may develop after a respiratory tract infection.
- Many aspects of modern lifestyles such as changes in housing, diet and a more sterile home environment may have contributed to the rise in asthma over the last few decades.