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In asthma - more precisely called bronchial asthma - the mucous membranes of the airways are chronically inflamed - especially those of the bronchi. Together with the trachea, the bronchi and bronchioles form the airways. Certain stimuli constrict the airways in asthmatics - the result is often an attack of breathlessness, which occurs particularly in the morning and at night. If asthma is not treated, the functioning of the lungs can deteriorate permanently, as the airways can become permanently narrowed.

Asthma is the most common chronic disease in children. Boys suffer from asthma more often than girls. Asthma can be triggered by allergies, upper respiratory tract infections, exertion, psychological stress, cold, medication or polluted air.



Those affected experience asthma with varying degrees of intensity. As the mucous membranes of the bronchial tubes are inflamed due to irritation, they produce an excessive amount of mucus. The mucus, the swelling of the mucous membranes and the bronchospasm (the spasm of the muscles of the airways) narrow the airways and make breathing difficult, especially exhalation. Common asthma symptoms are breathlessness or shortness of breath (especially in the morning and at night and after physical exertion), wheezing, a chest tightness or a chest cough. An acute asthma attack is triggered by a sudden narrowing of the airways, accompanied by severe shortness of breath and a strong feeling of tightness in the chest. An attack can be short, but can also last up to several hours. 

Course of disease

The course of asthma depends on the individual therapy. The prognosis for bronchial asthma in children is generally good. If the disease is recognised and treated in time, one in three children has the chance of being symptom-free as an adult. However, the airways remain susceptible for life.


Bronchial asthma can have a variety of causes. Experts divide the causes into three categories:

  • Allergic triggers: There is an allergic reaction (for example to pollen, house dust mites, animal hair or mould spores). In many cases, a hereditary predisposition also plays a role.
  • Non-allergic triggers: respiratory tract infections, certain medications, air pollutants (exhaust fumes or tobacco smoke), cold and dry air, stress and psychological influences or physical exertion.
  • Mixed form: Allergic and non-allergic triggers together are the cause of bronchial asthma.

If asthma only occurs in adulthood, allergies are not the trigger in most cases.


In many cases, a doctor will make a diagnosis based on the characteristic symptoms. Typical lung noises such as whistling or humming when breathing can be heard when listening. Questions about complaints during physical work, stress factors at work or family illnesses support the diagnosis.

In a further step, lung function tests, skin allergy tests or so-called provocation tests (those affected inhale suspected allergens under medical supervision) help to rule out other respiratory and lung diseases such as bronchitis, whooping cough, COPD or cystic fibrosis.


Asthma is difficult to cure, but can usually be treated very well. With good asthma control, those affected can carry out everyday activities, take part in sports and have the same life expectancy as healthy people. As a first step, asthmatics should avoid the triggering substances. In addition, medication (bronchodilators or anti-inflammatory preparations) helps to control asthma. However, therapy is not only based on taking medication - it is just as important for those affected to adhere to additional behavioural measures:

  • Do not smoke

  • Exercise regularly

  • Normalise body weight if necessary

  • Respiratory and physiotherapy if necessary


A flu infection can exacerbate bronchial asthma. People with moderate and severe asthma should therefore be vaccinated against flu.


Important triggers for bronchial asthma or acute asthma attacks are tobacco smoke, pollen, mites, moulds, bacteria, viruses or car exhaust fumes. In the case of allergic asthma, it is important to avoid the triggering substances in the air. Sometimes food allergies also need to be taken into account. Dry indoor air is an additional irritating factor for the bronchial tubes. For this reason, those affected should always ensure adequate humidity and drink plenty of fluids. Thanks to the fluid, the mucus in the airways can drain better.

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