What is asthma?
Asthma is a common disorder which occurs in both children and adults. During an attack there is temporary spasm of the breathing tubes, that is, they contract suddenly and involuntarily, so that the patient finds it hard to breathe. In between attacks, which can be distressing, the breathing may be perfectly normal. Asthma does not cause any permanent damage to the heart or lungs.
Are there different types of asthma?
Yes, two main types are recognized. 'Allergic' asthma affects people who are abnormally sensitive to common substances, such as grass pollen, house dust, house mite, feathers or animal hair. These substances are known as 'allergens' and contact with them will start an asthma attack in people who are sensitive to them. This form of asthma usually begins in childhood. The other type, which starts in adult life, is not associated with any allergies, except perhaps to aspirin, and patients with this form of asthma often have nasal symptoms as well.
Is asthma hereditary or infectious?
A proportion of people with allergic asthma have relatives who also suffer from this condition or one associated with it, namely hay fever or eczema. However, by no means all children of asthmatic parents develop the condition. Asthma is not infectious and cannot be 'caught' from other people.