Asthma and asthma attack: symptoms, cause and treatment

Asthma symptoms often include coughing and wheezing. Other common asthma symptoms include shortness of breath and shortness of breath. Asthma is a chronic disease that can cause breathing problems. People with asthma sometimes have difficulty breathing because their airways are quickly irritated by all kinds of substances. They may then become short of breath, wheezing or coughing. It is a chronic inflammation of the airways. Asthma cannot be cured, but it can be managed. Asthma is often diagnosed in childhood. Nevertheless, adults still have a chance of developing asthma: it affects an estimated 6 in 1,000 people.

  • What is asthma?
  • Chronic condition
  • Respiratory tract extra sensitive
  • Shortness of breath
  • Asthma comes in attacks
  • Asthma in adults
  • Symptoms and complaints of asthma
  • Complaints
  • Asthma symptoms vary
  • Complaint-free periods
  • Asthma attacks
  • The early symptoms of asthma
  • Asthma warning signs
  • Asthma action plan
  • Recognize the symptoms of asthma in children
  • Chronic coughing, shortness of breath and wheezing
  • Young children and asthma
  • Examination and diagnosis
  • Asthma treatment
  • Medication
  • Incorrect use of inhaler
  • Air purifier
  • Power supply
  • Celery
  • Selenium
  • New developments and news about asthma

What is asthma?

Chronic condition

Asthma is a chronic disease that can cause breathing problems. People with asthma sometimes have difficulty breathing because their airways are quickly irritated by all kinds of substances. They may then become short of breath, wheezing or coughing. It is a chronic inflammation of the airways. Asthma cannot be cured, but it can be managed. With proper treatment, people with asthma can lead normal, active lives.

Respiratory tract extra sensitive

The airways of people with asthma are extra sensitive. When an asthmatic is near certain substances, this can have an impact on their extra sensitive airways. This could include dust mites, pets or pollen. But complaints can also arise from non-allergic stimuli such as cigarette smoke, perfume and fog. An asthma attack can occur under the influence of exercise, stress and tension, irritating factors in the air and allergens

Lungs / Source: Mikael Häggström, Wikimedia Commons (Public domain)

Shortness of breath

As a result of this stimulation, the airways become red and swollen – the lower airways (the lungs) become inflamed. They fill with mucus. The swelling and mucus narrow the airways, making it harder for air to pass through. The lungs eventually become overfilled with air. The air is not refreshed enough and this leads to shortness of breath.

Asthma comes in attacks

The shortness of breath and other complaints (see below) occur in attacks and periods. An attack often occurs at night or early in the morning. People with asthma often have little or no complaints for a short or longer period of time. Nevertheless, the airways remain slightly inflamed even during this quiet period. Therefore, asthma is a chronic condition. Chronic means the long-term persistence of a disease or one or more of the symptoms of that disease.

Asthma in adults

In the vast majority of cases, asthma is diagnosed in childhood. The chance that you will still have asthma as an adult is very small. This happens to an estimated 6 in 1,000 people. If you have an immediate family member with asthma, you are more likely to get it too. But you can also develop asthma later in life if you do not have family members with asthma. Asthma can be triggered by external factors, such as your living environment or your lifestyle. An important triggering factor is smoking. Tobacco smoke is harmful to your airways and irritates them. If this happens over a longer period of time, the risk of an inflammatory reaction in your airways increases. If the irritation persists, this inflammatory response can become chronic. Air pollution is also a factor in the development of asthma; for example, living near a highway. There are also people who regularly and sometimes unintentionally inhale polluted air or chemical fumes as a professional. In people with hay fever or house dust mite allergy, overstimulation of the airways can also be a reason for asthma.

Symptoms and complaints of asthma


The following signs and symptoms may occur with asthma:

  • coughing, especially at night, sometimes coughing up phlegm;
  • rattling, wheezing, sawing or grumbling breathing;
  • shortness of breath in attacks or during periods;
  • shortness of breath on exertion;
  • tightness in the chest, pain or pressure;
  • (sometimes) blue fingers due to lack of oxygen.

Asthma symptoms vary

Not every person with asthma has the same symptoms in the same way. Not all symptoms have to occur and it is also possible that different symptoms of asthma occur at different times. Symptoms can also vary. For example, one asthma attack can be mild and another more serious.

Complaint-free periods

Some people with asthma have extended periods of (almost) symptom-free periods, interrupted by periodic worsening of their symptoms due to asthma attacks. Others may experience asthma symptoms to a greater or lesser extent every day. In addition, some people only suffer from asthma during strenuous exercise or when struck by a viral infection such as a cold or flu.

Asthma attacks

Mild asthma attacks are generally more common than severe attacks. It is important to recognize mild symptoms and treat them promptly to prevent serious episodes from occurring and to keep asthma under good control.

The early symptoms of asthma

Early warning signs are changes that happen just before or at the beginning of an asthma attack. These symptoms may occur before the known symptoms of asthma develop. These signals are the first signs that asthma is worsening.

Asthma warning signs

In general, these symptoms are not severe enough to interfere with daily activities. But by recognizing the symptoms and, for example, taking a ‘puff’ in time (inhaling medication for respiratory complaints), an asthma attack or worsening of the complaints can be prevented. Early warning signs include:

  • frequent coughing, especially at night;
  • shortness of breath;
  • being easily tired or feeling weak during physical exertion;
  • wheezing or coughing after exercise;
  • tired, easily upset, grumpy or moody;
  • signs of a cold or allergy (sneezing, runny nose, coughing, nasal congestion; sore throat and headache)
  • sleep problems.

Asthma action plan

In case of early signs or symptoms, the intake of asthma medication can be increased, as described in the asthma action plan. Many asthma patients benefit from a well-developed and written asthma action plan. Such a plan explains in detail when the patient should take which medication to control the disease and how to deal with asthma attacks. Responding promptly and adequately to a worsening of asthma prevents the symptoms from worsening.

Recognize the symptoms of asthma in children

Asthma is the most common chronic disease in childhood and affects 5 to 12 percent of children. For unknown reasons, the incidence of asthma in children is steadily increasing. Although symptoms of asthma can begin at any age, the first symptoms of asthma often occur before the age of five.

Chronic coughing, shortness of breath and wheezing

Most asthma patients experience shortness of breath, wheezing and coughing. However, not all children with asthma have wheezing. Chronic coughing may be the only obvious sign of asthma. Asthma may be overlooked in a child if the cough is attributed to recurrent bronchitis.

Young children and asthma

Special criteria have been drawn up in young children to assess whether asthma exists. The fact is that not every toddler or preschooler who wheezes and coughs has asthma. In children aged two years or younger, there must have been three episodes of wheezing before a diagnosis of asthma can be made.

Examination and diagnosis

If you suspect asthma, your GP will refer you to a lung specialist. This person will then ask you questions about your complaints, such as when you have lung problems and how long you have had these complaints. The pulmonologist will also listen to your lungs (breath sounds) and have a photo taken of your lungs. In addition, a simple lung function examination and blood tests are possible. Depending on the findings of all these examinations, the pulmonologist will have you return for more extensive examination. Possible examinations you may receive include the following:

  • Spirometry, which measures the function of the lungs;
  • Reversibility study, in which lung function is measured before and approximately half an hour after you have inhaled a bronchodilator;
  • Hyperreactivity research, in which the effect of an irritating substance on your lung function is measured;
  • Skin allergy test, which tests for the presence of an allergy;
  • Hyperventilation provocation test, which can demonstrate the presence of hyperventilation;
  • Walking test, which examines whether you have exercise-induced asthma.

Hay fever / Source:

Asthma treatment


For asthma you are usually prescribed anti-inflammatories and bronchodilators. You inhale these medications through your mouth with an inhaler, so they go directly into your lungs. These inhalers are often called ‘puffers’. Anti-inflammatories and bronchodilators can also be administered together in one puffer. These combination medications protect your lungs and widen your airways. Furthermore, the doctor can prescribe medication for various allergies, such as dust mites, hay fever or pets (such as cats).

Incorrect use of inhaler

Research shows that asthma patients often use the inhaler incorrectly. Only 7 percent use the special inhaler as intended, according to American research (2014). According to the Dutch Asthma Fund, patients should therefore receive much better information about self-medication and that role should mainly be fulfilled by pharmacists.

Air purifier

Install an air purifier indoors to filter dust particles and purify the air.

Celery good against inflammation / Source:

Power supply


The components in celery work very well against inflammation. The substances polyacetylene and luteolin found in celery are powerful anti-inflammatory agents. If you suffer from asthma, eating celery or drinking celery juice can provide relief from the symptoms.


There is some evidence that when people with asthma take selenium supplements, they experience fewer asthma-related symptoms.[1]

New developments and news about asthma

Below is a selection of the latest developments regarding the treatment and diagnosis of asthma.

Half of children with asthma do not have asthma at all.
More than half of all children diagnosed with asthma do not have asthma at all. Researchers from the University Medical Center in Utrecht have come to this striking conclusion. Nearly 5,000 children between the ages of 6 and 18 were examined. (Source: NOS Journaal, 27-02-2016)

‘Baker’s flour can lead to asthma’
Following the popularity of the British version of the BBC’s baking program Heel Holland Bakt, Great British Bake Off, the British asthma fund has warned that it inhaling flour can cause asthma. The British Asthma Fund reports that 3,000 Britons develop asthma every year, including many professional bakers. The fund warns in the Daily Mail newspaper that hobby bakers could be the next victims. This is reported by the Daily Mail. According to new French research, breathing in fine dust over and over again is one of the biggest causes of asthma. (Source:, 08-09-2014)

More frequent asthma after a shorter pregnancy
Not only children who were born extremely prematurely, but also children who were born just prematurely or who have rapid weight gain in the first year of life after birth. birth have an increased risk of asthma complaints. Researchers from Erasmus MC discovered this after studying data from more than 140,000 European children. They publish their findings today in the scientific journal Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology .

The earlier children are born, the greater the risk of asthma complaints. In children born between 30 and 32 weeks of pregnancy, this risk can be even 90% higher compared to children born after 40 weeks of pregnancy. The risk decreases, but is still 10% increased in children born just prematurely. The greatest risk of asthma complaints was found for children who were born prematurely and experienced accelerated weight gain in the first year after birth. (Source:, 14-02-2014)

Breastfeeding reduces asthma in babies and young children
French researchers showed in 2008 that breastfeeding offers protection against asthma. Based on a study conducted on newborn children, they were able to prove that the passage of inhaled allergenic substances through breast milk reduces the allergic response by more than 60%.

In 2012, researchers at Otago University in New Zealand found that breastfed babies were less likely to develop asthma up to the age of six. The researchers analyzed data from more than 1,100 children between the ages of two and six and found that the risk of asthma was reduced by more than 59 percent in children who were breastfed. This justifies the conclusion that breastfeeding offers protection against asthma.


  1. Allam MF, Lucane RA. Selenium supplementation for asthma. Cochrane Database System Rev. 2004;(2):CD003538.

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