What is asthma?
Asthma is caused by inflammation of the airways- the small tubes that carry air in and out of the lungs.
The airways of people with asthma are more sensitive than normal. When irritated by a ‘trigger’ the airway muscles tighten, there is an increase in mucus and the airway lining becomes inflamed and swollen causing the airway to become narrow. This leads to poor lung function and the following symptoms:
- Difficulty breathing
- Wheezing (a whistling noise in the chest during breathing)
- A tight chest
The triggers that cause airway narrowing vary from person to person and some people have several triggers. Common triggers include infections (eg. cold viruses), cold air, tobacco smoke, house dust mite and animal fur.
The airway of people with asthma becomes irreversibly thicker over time, leading some to have poor lung function and symptoms even when triggers are not present.
There is no cure for asthma. Treatment includes avoiding triggers and using medicines (often inhalers) to relax the airway muscles and reduce the inflammation.
Using a written asthma action plan has been shown to reduce asthma attacks. The action plan should be filled in by a doctor or asthma nurse, in discussion with the patient or family. It contains the information needed for individuals to control their asthma, including details about their asthma medicines, how to tell when their symptoms are getting worse and what they should do about it, and emergency information on what to do if they have an asthma attack.
Who is affected?
Asthma is common affecting 1 in 11 children and 1 in 12 adults. In the UK 5.4 million people are currently receiving treatment for asthma.
Better management of asthma is important for the individual, but also for society as a whole. Asthma causes children to miss school, and over 12 million working days are lost each year because of asthma. Asthma treatment costs the NHS £1 billion annually and there are 1200 deaths.
AAIR Charity provides vital funding to support research aiming to:
- understand why children develop asthma
- improve treatment of asthma and find a cure
- prevent the airway thickening that leads to chronic persistent poor lung function and symptoms.
AAIR charity supports asthma researchers in the early stages of their career- PhD students and MSc Allergy students receive funding for projects ranging between a few months and 3 years. These early career researchers, supervised by world leading asthma researchers in University of Southampton will become the asthma researchers of the future.