You may have been wheezing, short of breath or coughing at night for so long that you assume it is normal. Suddenly, you are told that it must be asthma and you join a group of patients estimated at 10-15% of theUK population.
Asthma is caused by chronic inflammation which leads to hyper-reactive airways which narrow in response to a range of external triggers. There are a variety of triggers which include cold air, house dust mites, animal fur and exercise. The airway narrowing leads to a chronic (long term) cough, often worse at night, wheeze (a difficulty breathing out associated with a whining noise) and shortness of breath.
Your GP can diagnose asthma by the information you give them, what they hear when listening to your chest, for example the wheezing noise, and by measuring your peak flow. Peak flow decreases when the airways are narrowed by asthma, and so is a good aid to diagnosis of the condition. Your GP will show you how to "huff-out" all your air into a meter in the shortest time possible. This meter then shows a number which is the peak flow. Your GP may ask you to take a peak flow meter home and use it twice a day, when you're at home, at work or on holiday. This may help to work out triggers which make things worse and can therefore be avoided.
Occasionally people with asthma can have a rapid deterioration in their breathing which may have been triggered by a chest or airways infection. This is known as acute asthma or an asthma attack.
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