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What is Asthma?

Asthma is an inflammatory condition in which airways narrow due to hyper- responsiveness to a wide range of stimuli. This may result in coughing, wheezing, chest tightness, and shortness of breath and an increase in sticky mucus production (phlegm). Narrowing of the airways is usually reversible (either spontaneously or with medication) leading to intermittent symptoms, but in some people with chronic asthma, the inflammation may lead to irreversible airflow obstruction.  

The human body produces hormones called steroids that help to regulate inflammation. This process tends to switch off when you sleep, so asthma is often worse at night and first thing in the morning.

In early childhood, asthma is more common in boys than in girls, but by adulthood, the sex ratio is reversed. Approximately 60% of adults with asthma in the UK are women.

The probability of someone having asthma could increase with:

  • History of atopic disorder (example hayfever,eczema)
  • Family history of asthma and/or atopic disorder.

Making a diagnosis of asthma is a process which is different in adults and children. The process of assessment should result in an accurate diagnosis in order to ensure the person receives appropriate treatment.  The diagnosis of asthma is based on:

  • Signs and symptoms
  • Clinical history
  • Breathing tests such as spirometry with or without bronchodilator reversibility, pulmonary function tests, peak expiratory flow, nitric oxide exhalation test, bronchial hyper-responsiveness using methacholine, exercise or mannitol
  • Other tests, including tests for atopy (skin prick tests for allergies), chest x-ray and blood tests

Allergic Asthma
Occurs when a person is exposed to an allergen which irritates the airways, triggering asthma symptoms. Damp, house dust mite, Mould, roaches, pollens (seasonal) and pet dander are common allergens.

Non allergic Asthma
Occurs due to irritants, such as cold air, pollution, chemical fumes, Flu and other viral infections.

Occupational Asthma
Occurs particularly in work places such as bakery's, laboratory's, farming or manufacturing plants etc. Other symptoms that can be linked to occupational asthma are rhinitis (sneezing, itchy, runny nose) or conjunctivitis (itchy, red, and inflamed eyes). Occupational Asthma symptoms improve on the days when not at work and get worse after work, or sleep disturbances after work.

Exercise Induced Asthma
Occurs following physical exertion or sports leads to coughing, difficulty breathing and chest tightness that improve when exertion stops.​

Drug induced Asthma
Drugs such as Aspirin and other NSAIDs (example ibuprofen) may induce bronchospasm (tightening of the airways) and, in rare cases, this reaction can lead to aspirin-sensitive asthma.  Beta blocker medications including eye drops are contra indicated in patients with asthma.

Some respiratory conditions require medication to keep symptoms under control. There is a variety of medication available in various inhaler devices. Some inhalers are dry powder devices, others are aerosols or mists. 

Your clinician will discuss the medication and inhaler devices with you.

It is important to have your inhaler technique checked regularly to ensure optimum medication delivery to the airways and to reduce the risk of side effects.

It is important not to let your inhalers exceed their expiry date or run out

We've created some helpful videos to show you how to use your inhaler. Select which video applies to you and press 'play'.



​​​​If you are an asthma sufferer, but find that you are getting cold-like symptoms throughout the year, it may be that you are also suffering from allergic rhinitis. 

Seasonal Allergic Rhinitis

Seasonal allergic rhinitis, or hay fever, affects sufferers throughout the spring and/or summer months, mostly between March and August when the pollen levels are at their highest.  Allergic rhinitis can affect both your quality of life and your day-to-day activities.  Research has shown that allergic rhinitis and asthma are closely linked and for some people, if their allergy is not well managed it can make their asthma symptoms worse.  Up to 80% of asthma sufferers also suffer with allergic rhinitis.  It makes sense, therefore, to have an integrated approach to treat both conditions.  Treatment should also include allergen avoidance wherever possible.  You can find out more information from Allergy UK's website ( 

To keep up to date with the weather and pollen forecasts, visit: and download the app for either iPhone or Android phones.

Perennial Rhinitis

If you suffer with year-round symptoms, or perennial rhinitis, you may be reacting to house-dust mite .Not all perennial rhinitis is allergy induced.

Common triggers of asthma

Environmental triggers

  • Animal proteins, such as house dust mites, animal hair and cat saliva
  • Household cleaners, sprays, paint, strong perfume
  • Chemicals
  • Mould spores, which are released from trees at the end of the year, or in damp housing
  • Pollens, including trees and grass
  • Traffic fumes
  • Weather and changes in temperature

Other triggers

Medications such as aspirin or beta-blockers and medicines containing salicylates, such as ibuprofen and some other anti-inflammatory drugs.

  • Cigarette smoke
  • Exercise
  • Emotions
  • Viral infections (cold, Flu or other respiratory infections
  • Hormonal changes
  • Gastro -oesophageal reflux (GORD)​

Further information on allergens and seasonal triggers can be found on the Allergy UK website ( and the Asthma UK website (   You can also contact your doctor or asthma nurse for further advice and information.

Daily Air Quality Index​

The Daily Air Quality Index (DAQI) tells you about levels of air pollution and provides recommended actions and health advice. The index is numbered 1-10 and divided into four bands: low (1) to very high (10), to provide detail about air pollution levels in a simple way, similar to the sun index or pollen index.

You should follow the three steps below to use the Daily Air Quality Index:

Step 1: Determine whether you (or your children) are likely to be at-risk from air pollution.

Information on people who may be affected is provided in the 'additional information' section on the 'short-term effects of air pollution' page. Your doctor may also be able to give you advice.

Step 2: If you may be at-risk, and are planning strenuous activity outdoors, check the air pollution forecast.

Step 3: Use the health messages below corresponding to the highest forecast level of pollution as a guide. Click on the link:​

Below is a list of resources and information that you may find useful.

Asthma UK

On their website:

Do you suffer from asthma? leaflet​ – Click on the link to find your nearest 'Breathe Easy' group.​  - Click on the link to find out about a local charity active in the provision of education, training and research.

'Manage Your Health' is a new app for managing your long term condition. Click here for iPhone devices.

'Breathe Easy' North Staffordshire - local support group