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What is asthma?

Asthma is a condition that affects the airways - the small tubes that carry air in and out of the lungs. People with asthma have airways that are almost always red and sensitive (inflamed). 

These airways can react badly when you have a cold or other viral infection or when you come into contact with an asthma trigger. 

A trigger is anything that irritates the airways and causes the symptoms of asthma to appear. Common triggers include colds or 'flu, cigarette smoke, exercise and allergies to things like pollen, furry or feathery animals or house-dust mite.
When someone with asthma comes into contact with an asthma trigger, the muscle around the walls of the airways tightens so that the airway becomes narrower. 

The lining of the airways becomes inflamed and starts to swell. Often sticky mucus or phlegm is produced. All these reactions cause the airways to become narrower and irritated - leading to the symptoms of asthma.

What does it feel like?

The usual symptoms of someone with asthma are:

  • Coughing
  • Wheezing or whistling noise in the chest
  • Getting short of breath
  • A tight feeling in the chest

Not everybody will get all these symptoms. Some people experience them from time to time, perhaps if they get a cold, or come into contact with one of their asthma triggers.

Others experience the worst symptoms at night, first thing in the morning or after exercise. A few people may experience these symptoms all the time.