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Asthma is a long-term condition that affects your airways.

Our sister charity, Asthma UK, has full information:

What is asthma?

Asthma is a long-term condition that affects your airways. It affects about 5 million people in the UK.

Most people with asthma who receive the right treatment – and take it correctly – can control their symptoms and lead normal lives. But it is potentially serious.

You can read more about asthma on the Asthma UK website. There’s also information on asthma in children aged 12 and under.

What causes asthma?

We do not know what causes asthma, but we do know that many things can make it more likely that someone will get asthma. Read more about what causes asthma on the Asthma UK website.

What are the symptoms of asthma?

It’s not always easy to tell if you have asthma. Not everyone experiences the symptoms all the time, and they can range from mild to serious. Read more about symptoms of asthma on the Asthma UK website.

What triggers asthma symptoms?

Anything that irritates and inflames your airways can make your asthma worse. This could be an infection or something you breathe in. Read more about asthma triggers on the Asthma UK website.

How is asthma diagnosed?

Your health care professional makes a diagnosis of asthma based on your symptoms, family history of allergies and the results of breathing tests. Read more about diagnosing asthma on the Asthma UK website.

How is asthma treated?

The most common form of treatment for asthma is medication taken through an inhaler. Read more about preventer inhalers, reliever inhalers and other forms of asthma treatment and learn how to improve your inhaler technique on the Asthma UK website.

How is asthma managed?

Learn how to manage your asthma better on the Asthma UK website. Find out how to get the most out of your asthma review, how to create your own personalised asthma action plan and what to do if your asthma is getting worse.

What is an asthma attack?

Read more about asthma attacks on the Asthma UK website.

You're having an asthma attack if any of the following happens:

  • Your blue reliever isn't helping, or you need to use it more than every four hours
  • You're wheezing a lot, have a very tight chest, or you're coughing a lot
  • You're breathless and find it difficult to walk or talk
  • Your breathing is getting faster and it feels like you can't get your breath in properly

What to do if you have an asthma attack

  • Sit up straight and try to keep calm.
  • Take one puff of your reliever inhaler every 30-60 seconds. You can take up to 10 puffs. Use a spacer device if you have one as this helps more medication get into your lungs.
  • If your symptoms improve, you still need to contact your GP, nurse or out-of-hours service the same day.
  • If you feel worse while you're using your inhaler or you do not feel better after 10 puffs or you're worried, call 999.
  • In this case, take 10 more puffs after 15 minutes, if you need to.

What is severe asthma?

If you have severe asthma, it means your asthma symptoms do not improve with usual asthma treatment. Severe asthma is much less common than asthma. Read more about severe asthma and how to manage it on the Asthma UK website.

More information

Asthma UK has more detailed information about asthma and information about asthma in children. You can also download an asthma action plan.

Visit or call 0300 222 5800.

We use your comments to improve our information. We cannot reply to comments left on this form. If you have health concerns or need clinical advice, call our helpline on 03000 030 555 between 9am and 5pm on a weekday or email them.

Last medically reviewed: April 2020. Due for review: April 2023

This information uses the best available medical evidence and was produced with the support of people living with lung conditions. Find out how we produce our information. If you’d like to see our references get in touch.