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Asthma is an inflammatory condition of the airways (bronchial tubes) of the lungs. These carry the air we breathe. With asthma the airways are extra sensitive to substances or trigger factors which irritate them, such as dust, animal fur or cigarette smoke.

When in contact with a trigger factor, the air passages become narrower and a sticky mucus (phlegm) is produced making it difficult for air to pass through. Asthma is on the increase, especially in children.

The exact cause of asthma is unknown, but an attack can be due to sensitivity (allergy) to a trigger factor or to non-allergic causes. It is known that asthma often runs in families. Viral infections are a very common trigger of an asthma attack – more common than allergy.

Some symptoms of asthma

  • Repeated attacks of coughing and wheezing, usually with colds, shortness of breath and production of phlegm. The symptoms are often worse at night or after exercise. Not everyone with asthma gets all the symptoms. And for many young children, a dry irritating cough may be the only symptom. See your GP if you think your child has asthma.

  • Smoking during pregnancy or around a child, can increase the child’s risk of asthma.
  • Breastfeeding your child for as long as possible can help protect against asthma developing.

We are indebted to Health Promotion England for their help in compiling this section.