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Asthma Information

Asthma InformationAsthma has become one of the most significant chronic disorders in the developed world. Asthma has no concise definition; however the International Consensus Report on the Diagnosis and Management of Asthma defines it the following way: “Asthma is a chronic inflammatory disorder of the airways in which many cells and cellular elements play a role."

FAQ about Asthma:

How common is asthma?
Are there different types of asthma?
Is there a genetic factor in asthma?
How is asthma diagnosed?
What is the prognosis in asthma?
Can asthma be confused with other diseases?


How common is asthma?

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At present, around 5% of adults and 10% of children have clinically significant asthma in many countries, including the UK. Asthma has become one of the most significant chronic disorders in the developed world. Its prevalence has increased significantly within the last 25 years and it now affects around 300 million people worldwide.

Asthma is a serious condition, which occasionally proves fatal, accounting for 1,131 deaths in the UK in 2009. However, most deaths and hospital admissions for asthma are preventable. Asthma is a condition that can be managed successfully and part of this approach is having a strategy for allergen avoidance. According to Asthma UK, 5.4 million people in the UK have asthma, which includes 1.1 million children. The condition costs the NHS £1 billion a year and accounts for an annual 1.1 million lost working days and around 80,000 hospital admissions.

Are there different types of asthma?

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Yes, there are two main types of asthma – childhood onset (sometimes called extrinsic) and adult onset (or intrinsic). Most asthma does begin in childhood and is often associated with other atopic diseases like eczema and rhinitis.

1. Childhood onset asthma often has clearly identifiable triggers which will bring on an attack. The link between the three allergic diseases in childhood is often called ‘the march of asthma’, describing the journey from, for instance, eczema in babyhood to asthma and rhinitis when a child reaches school age.

2. Adult onset asthma may be a continuation of childhood onset asthma, or it may be a new onset of the condition. Asthma can occur at any age, and should be considered in anyone who has a chronic cough. In adult onset asthma, there is often no obvious trigger, except for a chest infection.

There are also many sub categories of asthma, such as:

Nocturnal asthma: Many people with asthma are woken at night with an attack. This feature is often associated with poor overall control of the disease.

Occupational asthma: Officially recognised as an industrial disease, occupational asthma is caused by exposure to a substance in the workplace. The UK Health and Safety Executive lists around 50 such substances which can be inhaled, some of them include chemicals such as isocyanates, aluminium and hair spray ingredients, various kinds of dust like flour and wood dust and animal dander all contribute to this type of asthma.

Brittle asthma: This is a severe form of asthma. In type 1 brittle asthma, the disease is uncontrolled and marked by very variable peak flow in air to the lungs. In type 2 brittle asthma, there are sudden severe deteriorations from a stable baseline air flow from the lungs.

Exercise-induced asthma: Physical activity is a common asthma trigger, particularly in children.

Aspirin-sensitive asthma: Asthma that is brought on by aspirin and related drugs, such as anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen. Asthma may also be brought on by beta-blockers, a common type of drug for treatment of high blood pressure.

Asthma can be particularly dangerous during pregnancy, please click here for more information on allergy & asthma during pregnancy.

Is there a genetic factor in asthma?

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Asthma does tend to run in families. However, asthma is not a single-gene disorder, with a clear pattern of inheritance. Instead, there are several ‘susceptibility’ genes involved in asthma, each contributing to the risk of developing the disease. So far, five potential susceptibility genes for asthma have been identified.

How is asthma diagnosed?

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Diagnosis depends upon the doctor taking a careful medical history from the patient and noting whether the hallmark symptoms of wheeze, chest tightness, breathlessness, and cough are present. There are no laboratory tests, blood tests, or scans, which can definitely diagnose asthma and distinguish it from other lung conditions. However if asthma is suspected, you may be sent for breathing tests to confirm the diagnosis. These include:

Spirometry: This is breathing into a machine called a spirometer, which measures how much air you can breathe out, showing whether the airways are obstructed or not.

Peak expiratory flow rate test: A small hand-held device called a peak flow meter is used to measure how fast you can blow air out of your lungs in one breath. The peak flow meter can be a useful tool to use yourself to monitor your asthma.

Skin prick, or blood tests, may be carried out to find out what allergens are triggering your asthma.

What is the prognosis in asthma?

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Asthma tends to be a chronic disease. However, around 50% of children do ‘outgrow’ asthma by the time they become teenagers. But their asthma often re-emerges when they are older. Like other chronic diseases, such as diabetes, asthma is not curable in the same way as, say, pneumonia, but it can be managed successfully so you can still live a full life. To find out more, please visit our asthma treatment information page.

Can asthma be confused with other diseases?

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Asthma can easily be mistaken for other conditions. Most commonly, asthma can resemble Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease but there are some important differences. Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease tends to affect those over 35, there is no link with family history, the patient is usually a current smoker, and breathlessness is progressive rather than intermittent.

Other disorders which might be mistaken for asthma, because of similarity in symptoms, include:

  • Hyperventilation/panic attack
  • Heart failure
  • Cough induced by ACE inhibitors (a blood pressure drug)
  • Vocal cord problems
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Bronchiectasis
  • Pulmonary thromboembolism (blood clot on the lungs)
  • Lung cancer

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Asthma Information | Asthma Explained | Asthma Expert Advice Articles

The Latest News on Childhood Asthma

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childhood asthma The focus of our news round-up this month is on childhood asthma - how an air purifier can improve symptoms, the risks of low birth weight, the benefits of breast-feeding, and how asthma is linked to chronic lung disease in later life.

Exposing children with asthma to second-hand smoke makes their asthma worse. Second-hand smoke also increases the risk of ear infections, bronchitis and other lung infections in children. Obviously, the best way of protecting children from the dangers is to quit, but sometimes family members are unable to or unwilling to do so.

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New Medical findings on Asthma

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findings on asthma Asthma research" has been very much on the medical research agenda in recent weeks, so we thought it was time to bring you an update on the latest news:

  • New findings from the West Sweden Asthma Study suggest that severe asthma may disguise itself as nasal congestion. Dr Jan Lötvall and his team, from the University of Gothenburg, asked 30,000 people about symptoms like nasal congestion, runny nose, wheezing and breathlessness. He found that around 2% of the population of West Sweden actually had asthma, which was more than expected.
  • Read More

Asthma Advice - Interview With Delia Balan

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asthma advice As part of our series of interviews with allergy and asthma experts across the UK, we spoke with Ms. Delia Balan, an asthma nurse who gives asthma advice at Asthma UK.

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The Language of Asthma

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language of asthma Because we thought it would be helpful to you, we have set ourselves the task of compiling an allergy glossary. In this glossary I am trying to define and describe all the terms you might come across if you have asthma, or another allergic disease. The first installment consists of 'the language of asthma' i.e. the ten most important asthma terms.

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Prof. Chris Corrigan - UK Asthma Specialist

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chris corrigan Today we spoke with Professor Chris Corrigan at King's College London School of Medicine, as part of our series of interviews with allergy and asthma specialists across the UK. It is our hope that reading about different physicians, researchers and allergy charities will provide you with valuable insight into your life with allergy and asthma in the UK.

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The Top 7 Asthma Questions

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asthma questions Asthma is a condition involving the airways, which are the tiny tubes carrying air in and out of the lungs. In asthma, the airways are affected in three different ways.

  • Abnormal 'twitchiness' or sensitivity
  • Inflammation
  • Blockage with mucus

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