© by aha! Swiss Allergy Centre - Info on allergies - Asthma - woman and man making footing

Asthma (allergic asthma or bronchial asthma) is an inflammatory secondary disease which involves hypersensitivity and spasmodic narrowing of the airways. Untreated allergic rhinitis (e.g. pollen allergy) leads to asthma in 30% of people. This is referred to as progression.

Causes and triggers

Allergens are the most common triggers of bronchial asthma. Depending on individual sensitisation, contact with house dust mites, animals, pollen or moulds or consumption of certain foods or medicines leads to an asthmatic reaction with a cough and shortness of breath.

Typical asthma symptoms

  • persistent dry cough or tickling in the throat, possibly coughing up of clear phlegm after physical exercise, when exposed to cold, after infection or immoderate laughter
  • night-time coughing
  • wheezing
  • difficulty in breathing

However, other symptoms such as shortness of breath and tightness in the chest may also occur. What symptoms occur and their severity vary from one person to another. Individual symptoms sometimes first appear during or after severe physical exertion (exertion-induced asthma).

Diagnosis and differential diagnosis

Not every narrowing of the airways is actually asthma. Finding the diagnosis can be quite protracted and demands patience from those concerned. Symptoms lasting throughout the year are indicative of chronic asthma. In seasonal asthma, the asthmatic symptoms are confined to the pollen season. Food and animal allergies can also trigger an asthma attack. The diagnosis is made by a lung specialist (chest physician or pneumologist) or an allergy specialist.

Therapy and treatment

Optimum lung function and a symptom-free life are the ultimate goals of good asthma therapy. First and foremost, contact with the allergen is to be avoided or reduced. Therefore the first imperative is to identify the allergen or the trigger, if possible, to eliminate it and avoid asthma attacks. Further treatment may include individually tailored medicines which open up the airways and inhibit inflammation. It is important that patients have good inhalation technique (please have a look at the videos about different ways to inhalate)

After thorough investigation, specific immunotherapy is often recommended for allergic asthma. It is regarded as a causal treatment. It involves building up an immune response so that, to a large extent, contact with the allergen no longer triggers a reaction.

Tips and tricks

  • Good breathing technique can help to cope with physical exertion and acute shortness of breath better and without anxiety.
  • Irritants such as cigarette smoke, industrial gases and perfumes should be avoided, whenever possible.

Facts and figures

The diagnosis "asthma" is usually defined more precisely nowadays. The following distinctions are made:

  • Allergic asthma when a trigger is found.
  • Congenital asthma, e.g. in the case of extremely premature births (lungs not sufficiently matured) or genetic defects.
  • Acquired asthma, in smokers or certain occupational groups (dust lung disease).

In Switzerland 12% of all children and 6% of adults are affected.

Editors: aha! Swiss Allergy Centre in co-operation with the Scientific Advisory Board. For prevalence figures, see source references.

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