Asthma FAQs

Inflammation is a reaction to infection and other threats to the body. Usually, inflammation is a way for the body to defend itself against attack. In asthma, inflammation affects the lining of the airways and the underlying tissue. This inflammation happens in response to things that would not normally be harmful and causes the airways to become swollen and narrow with sticky mucus.


Inflammation of the airways causes the symptoms of asthma (wheezing, breathlessness, chest tightness and coughing) by restricting the airflow to and from the lungs. It does this by causing:

  • Swelling of the airways which makes them narrower.
  • Tightening of the muscles that surround the airways, making them even narrower. This is also called bronchoconstriction.
  • The production of too much mucus, which can plug up or block the airways.
  • Longer-term damage to the walls of the airways, which prevents them from opening as widely as a normal airway.

When the airways have been inflamed for a long time, they become extra-sensitive. This means that they react faster and more strongly to various triggers such as allergens, viruses, dust, smoke and stress.


Anyone can develop asthma. Asthma is very common; in fact is it the most common chronic disease in Ireland; In Ireland 1 in 5 children and 1 in 10 adults who have asthma. Certain factors may increase your likelihood of developing asthma.

  • You are more likely to develop asthma if you have a family history of asthma or conditions like eczema and hay fever.
  • Certain environmental factors may also influence the likelihood of developing asthma.
  • Smoking during pregnancy significantly increases the risk of a child developing asthma. Additionally, children whose parents smoke are also more likely to develop asthma.
  • Adult onset asthma may develop after a viral infection.
  • Long terms exposure to an irritant in the workplace may cause a person to develop asthma. This is known as occupational asthma.
  • Having allergies also increases your chances of developing asthma.
  • Exposure to inhaled irritants such as cigarette smoke and air pollution can trigger asthma symptoms in those who have an underlying tendency to asthma.


Asthma can start at any age, although about half of all people with asthma have had their first symptoms by the age of 10 and many children with asthma have ad their first asthma attack before the age of 6.

Asthma is difficult to diagnose in children under the age of 2. This is because wheezing and respiratory infections are common in young children and the symptoms similar to asthma. If your child is under 2 years of age and their symptoms are bad or don’t go away your doctor may decide to give them a trial of asthma medication to help make a diagnosis. In many cases a diagnosis of asthma may not be confirmed until a child is over the age of 5.


The causes of asthma are not yet fully understood. Asthma development is influenced by both genetic and environmental factors but how these factors work together is still largely unknown.

Factors which influence the risk of asthma can be divided into those which cause the development of asthma and those which trigger asthma symptoms. The development factors are primarily genetic.

The factors that trigger asthma symptoms are environmental factors such as:

  • Allergens from indoors or outdoors such as house dust mites, pets, pollen and moulds.
  • Infections, usually viral.
  • Occupational triggers
  • Tobacco smoke
  • Out/indoor air pollution
  • Diet

For more information on triggers click here

Not everyone with asthma will have obvious allergies, some asthma patients display few or no identifiable triggers at all.

Yes. Asthma is a chronic (long-term) disease that causes inflammation and narrowing of the airways. Some degree of inflammation is usually present, even at times when you are unaware of any symptoms.

If your asthma is untreated, you will have repeated attacks of asthma symptoms.

Some mild attacks may settle down without treatment, but treatment usually helps them to resolve more quickly. If you experience a serious attack you should seek emergency help.

Your asthma does not stay the same, but changes over time. Every person who has asthma will have both good and bad days, or even weeks or months. However, if asthma is properly treated  it is possible to enjoy long periods of time without symptoms or attacks.

Finally, while asthma is a chronic disease s; some children may grow out of the condition as they get older.


Poorly treated asthma may get worse with age. However, taking regular controller medication as prescribed by your doctor can prevent your asthma from getting worse and help to preserve your lung function.


Not necessarily, however asthma is often more severe if it starts at an older age. In addition, an older person with heart disease or other medical problems may have more difficulty in dealing with an asthma attack than a younger person.

What is called asthma in elderly people sometimes chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). COPD is a collective name for chronic bronchitis and emphysema, two disease that are almost always caused by smoking. Many of the symptoms of COPD are similar to those of asthma (e.g. breathlessness, wheezing, production of too much mucus, coughing). COPD is generally a more serious disease than asthma, because the changes in the airways are much more difficult to treat. Unfortunately, COPD can cause greater long-term disability and have a greater effect on the heart and other organ systems than asthma.


In some cases, worsening asthma symptoms may require some lifestyle changes. In many cases these changes will involve avoiding asthma triggers.

It can be difficult to identify exactly what triggers your asthma but sometimes the link is quite clear. For example, if your symptoms start within minutes of coming into contact with a cat or pollen etc. However in many cases, people have a delayed reaction to an asthma trigger.

By avoiding triggers that make your asthma symptoms worse, alongside taking your medicine correctly, you can reduce your symptoms and continue to enjoy your usual lifestyle.

There are other types of medicine that can be added to your treatment regime if needed, such as steroid tablets, long-acting relievers and combination inhalers. For information about other medicines speak to your doctor or asthma nurse.  If you would like more information or advice you can also call the Asthma Adviceline on 1800 44 54 64 to speak to our team of asthma nurse specialists, or email us your query to

There are some excellent treatments available to help you control your asthma. The most effective way of taking most asthma treatments is to inhale the medicine so it gets straight into your lungs. There are many different inhalers available and it is important that you use an inhaler that you are comfortable with and can use properly. Your doctor or asthma nurse will advise you on the most appropriate inhaler device for you and should show you how to use it correctly. They will also advise you on an appropriate space device if needed.

There are 2 main types of asthma medicine, these are called reliever inhalers and controller inhalers. They are both equally important but do very different things.

  • Reliever inhalers (usually blue) are taken as soon as symptoms appear (wheezing, cough or breathlessness). They work quickly by relaxing the muscles surrounding the narrowed airways and making it easier to breathe. Reliever inhalers are essential in treating asthma attacks. If you need to use your reliever inhaler more than twice a week, you should go back to your doctor or nurse and have your asthma reviewed so that you can keep it under control. If you continue to need a lot of reliever medicine over a long time there is a risk that it will become less effective and your asthma may worsen.

  • Controller inhalers (usually brown, red or orange) work by controlling the swelling and inflammation in the airways. This makes the airways less sensitive and reduces the risk of severe attacks. The effect of controller inhalers builds up over a period of time so they need to be taken every day, usually in the morning and evening. It is extremely important to take your controller medication even when you’re feeling well. Controllers contain corticosteroids which have limited side effects and are identical to those produced by the body. The steroids contained in preventer inhalers are not the same as the anabolic steroids used by athletes to improve performance. It is recommended to take your controller medication with a spacer device to ensure you’re getting as effective a dose as possible. You should rinse your mouth after using your controller in order to reduce the possibility of hoarseness or oral thrush.

There are other types of medicine that can be added into your treatment regime; these include steroid tablets, long acting relievers and combination inhalers. For information about other medicine speak to your doctor or asthma nurse. If you would like more information or advice you can also call the Asthma Adviceline on 1850 44 54 64 to speak to our team of asthma nurse specialists.

Yes, in fact if you are prescribed a controller inhaler and use it properly this will greatly reduce your chance of an asthma attack.

Some facts about the steroids in your controller inhaler:

  • The inhaled steroids used to treat your asthma are corticosteroids- identical to the steroids naturally produced by the human body.

  • They are completely different from the anabolic steroids used by bodybuilders and used.

  • Inhaled steroids go straight down to the airways, with very little absorbed into the rest of your body.

  • Your doctor will normally prescribe the lowest possible dose to treat your symptoms.

  • Inhalers can be in spray (aerosol) form or dry powder form. If you have an aerosol inhaler it is recommended that you use a spacer device when taking it. A spacer is a plastic or metal container with a mouthpiece at one end and a space to clip onto your inhaler at the other. Spacer devices help reduce the side effects of asthma medication and ensure you’re getting the correct dose.

  • Rinsing your mouth after using an inhaler is recommended to avoid side effects such as hoarseness and oral thrush.

  • Children’s treatment regimes should be reviewed every 6 months at the very least.

  • All children should use a spacer for their controller inhaler.

Occasionally if your asthma symptoms become severe, your doctor may give you a short course of steroid tablet. These work quickly and powerfully to help ‘soothe’ or calm your inflamed airways. Short courses of tablets (from 3-14 days) are unlikely to cause any long-term side effects. However, steroid tablets can lower the body’s resistance to chicken pox so you should contact your doctor if you’re taking steroid tablets and come into contact with chicken pox.



It is important to recognise when your asthma is getting worse so that you can take the necessary steps to avoid an asthma attack. To make sure you act fast, keep an eye out for the following signs:

  • Wheezing or coughing in the morning
  • Wheezing after exercise
  • Feeling you can’t keep up with your normal level of activity
  • Waking at night due to asthma symptoms such as chest tightness, shortness of breath, coughing or wheezing
  • Needing to take reliever medication more often than normal (or more than twice a week)
  • Symptoms aren’t improving when you take your reliever medication

Any of these signs suggest that your asthma is not controlled. You should see your doctor or asthma nurse immediately to get your asthma back under control.


During  an asthma attack, you should  immediately follow the 5 Step Rule:

Don't hesitate to call 999 or 112 if you're worried at any stage.

1. Stay calm. Sit up straight- do not lie down.

2. Take slow, steady breath.

3. Take 1 puff of your reliever inhaler (usually blue) every minute.

  • People over 6 years can take up to 10 puffs in 10 minutes
  • Children under 6 years can take up to 6 puffs in 10 minutes.

4. Call 12 or 999 if your symptoms do not improve after 10 minutes.

5. Repeat Step 3 if an ambulance has not arrived in 10 minutes.

Remember, during an asthma attack:

  • Do not the person on their own.
  • Extra puffs of reliever inhaler (usually blue) are safe.
  • it is perfectly safe to use someone else's reliever inhaler if you're not carrying your own

Everyone with asthma should carry their reliever inhaler at all times.



This one of the main concerns of many women with asthma. Like other allergic conditions such as hay fever and eczema, asthma often runs in the family.

Researchers are trying to understand which environmental factors also play a part in developing asthma. Some studies have shown that breast-feeding in the first few months of life may reduce the chance of your baby developing allergic conditions, including but not limited to asthma.

Both smoking during pregnancy and exposing an infant to second hand smoke are known to increase the chance of a child developing asthma during early childhood. The simplest way top reduce a baby’s chances of developing asthma is to avoid cigarette smoke wherever possible.

Many pregnant women are also concerned about the effect of their asthma medication on their child. Asthma medicines are completely safe and having well-controlled asthma is best for your baby so it is important to continue with your regular medication throughout pregnancy. If you are concerned about your asthma, speak to your doctor, nurse or healthcare professional.

If you are pregnant, you should have your asthma reviewed by your doctor or asthma nurse regularly.


Asthma is a lifelong disease that is managed with medication. A key part of having good asthma control for most people is taking medication day in-day out, even when you’re well. Yet asthma medication is expensive in Ireland. A survey of our members highlighted the scale of the problem:
  • People with asthma are spending up to€144 a month on their asthma medication.
  • 40% of respondents said that they don’t take their medication as prescribed because of cost.
  • A further 25% said they travel outside of Ireland to buy their medication because they can’t afford to buy it here.
  • The majority of those surveyed said they spent more than €250 per year on GP visits. As asthma is a disease that runs in families GP and medication costs can sky rocket.
We are calling on all political parties and candidates contesting General Election 2016 to work to cut the cost of asthma medication as a priority during the term of the next Government.


  • Subsidise medication for those most in need through the Long Term Illness Scheme or introduce another targeted scheme for people with asthma (In a recent survey of our members 91% of respondents stated that they wished to see a commitment by all political parties to have asthma included in the Long Term Illness Scheme).
  • Reduce the cost of asthma medication.
  • Introduce free GP care for all people with asthma as per the cycle of care set out in the National Clinical Programme something which 53% of our members said should be rolled out as a priority in a recent survey.