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Asthma is a condition of the airways. People with asthma have sensitive airways in their lungs which react to triggers that set off their asthma. This makes it harder for them to breathe.

Three main factors cause the airways to narrow:

  • The inside lining of the airways becomes red and swollen (inflammation)
  • Extra mucus (sticky fluid) may be produced, which can block up airways
  • Muscles around the airways squeeze tight. This is called ‘bronchoconstriction’

Asthma affects people of all ages. Some people get asthma when they are young; others when they are older. About one in ten Australian adults and one in nine or ten children have asthma. It is often associated with other allergic conditions like hay fever and eczema.

Typical asthma symptoms include:

  • a tight feeling in the chest
  • wheezing – whistling noise when breathing
  • shortness of breath
  • coughing
  • struggling to breathe.

The triggers for asthma symptoms vary for different people. Some common triggers are:

  • allergy triggers such as house dust mites, pollens, pets and moulds
  • cigarette smoke
  • viral infections – for example, colds and flu
  • cold air or changes in the weather
  • work-related triggers – for example, wood dust, chemicals, metal salts
  • some medication.

Asthma can be well controlled with the appropriate medication in almost all people. The main types of medication are:

  • relievers that act quickly to relax the muscles around the airways – this is the medication used during an asthma attack
  • preventers that slowly make the airways less sensitive to triggers and reduce inflammation inside the airways – they are taken daily to help keep you well
  • combination therapies that are preventers containing two different medicines.


For further information:

  • Asthma Australia have been the leaders in asthma health care and research.
  • The National Asthma Council Australia is a not-for-profit organisation working to improve health outcomes and quality of life for people with asthma.
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