What is asthma?

accreditation
0:00
play article
Subscribers can listen to this article
Asthma affects one in ten children and one in twenty adults.
Asthma affects one in ten children and one in twenty adults.

Alternative names: Bronchial asthma

Asthma is an inflammatory condition of the bronchi (the airways) in the chest. It’s a long-term (chronic) condition that can worsen to produce acute asthma attacks with increasing shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing (when you hear a whistling sound as you breathe), and tightness of the chest.

With asthma, the airways become inflamed in response to an allergy or trigger such as house dust mites, exercise, sulphites in food, viruses, cold weather, smoke and pollen. When exposed to the trigger, the airways constrict (become narrow), reducing the airflow to the lungs.

Whether you’ve had asthma for a short or long period of time, there’s usually room for improvement. Don’t judge whether you need help from your doctor by how long you’ve had asthma; judge on the presence of symptoms.

Asthma can be controlled, so you should really experience no or minimal symptoms. If you do experience symptoms, it’s time to check in with your medical team.

Reviewed by independent healthcare consultant Prof Praneet Valodia and pulmonologist Prof Elvis Irusen, Head of the Division of Pulmonology at the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Stellenbosch University. October 2018.

Read more:

- Who gets asthma?

- Asthma symptoms

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For 14 free days, you can have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today. Thereafter you will be billed R75 per month. You can cancel anytime and if you cancel within 14 days you won't be billed. 
Subscribe to News24
Editorial feedback and complaints

Contact the public editor with feedback for our journalists, complaints, queries or suggestions about articles on News24.

LEARN MORE