Asthma is a long-term lung condition. People with asthma have sensitive airways in their lungs which react to triggers, causing a ‘flare-up’. In a flare-up, the muscles around the airway squeeze tight, the airways swell and become narrow and there is more mucus. These things make it harder to breathe.
An asthma flare-up can come on slowly (over hours, days or even weeks) or very quickly (over minutes). A sudden or severe asthma flare-up is sometimes called an asthma attack.
One in nine people in Australia has asthma. It affects people of all ages. Some people get asthma when they are young; others when they are older.
Asthma cannot be cured, but for most people it can be well controlled by following a daily management plan.
How do you recognise asthma?
A person’s asthma symptoms can vary over time - sometimes they will have no symptoms, especially when their asthma is well-controlled. Symptoms often vary from person to person, but they are most commonly:
- tight feeling in the chest
- continuing cough
Symptoms often occur at night, early in the morning or during/just after activity. They are caused by the narrowing of the airways.
If your asthma is well controlled, you should only have occasional asthma symptoms.
If you have symptoms regularly, you should see your doctor, and visit the Controlling Asthma page.
If you’re not sure if you have asthma you should see your doctor. There is more information on diagnosis in Could it be asthma?
The causes of asthma are not fully understood, although people with asthma often have a family history of asthma, eczema and hayfever.
Research has shown that exposure to tobacco smoke (especially as a baby or young child), obesity and some workplace chemicals can increase the risk of developing asthma.
Researchers continue to try to find out more about what causes asthma and how we might prevent it.