The Causes of Asthma
Created | Updated Oct 14, 2007
Asthma is a condition in which the small airways of the lungs become inflamed, causing difficulty in breathing*. The usual symptoms are coughing, wheezing, getting short of breath or a tight feeling in the chest. Around one in 25 adults and one in seven children* in the UK have asthma.
Facts and Figures
Whilst the number of people diagnosed with asthma is rising1, the number of people dying of it is falling. Deaths peaked at just over 2,000 in 1988 and have fallen to around 1,500 per year in England and Wales. The majority of asthma deaths occur in those aged over 45, with around 40% occurring in the 75+ age group. Only a very small proportion (1%) occur in children*.
Causes of Asthma
Asthma attacks can be triggered by viruses, pollens, mould and fungus spores and other indoor and outdoor air pollutants.
It is a common but mistaken belief that air pollution from traffic is the biggest cause of asthma. Outdoor air pollution was much worse in British cities in the early part of the century, and if that were the direct cause, then the UK would have experienced a sharp fall in asthma sufferers since then, and there would be a clear difference between city and country-dwellers. In actual fact, children across the UK have fairly similar levels of asthma. Most people in Britain spend over three-quarters of their time indoors, so exposure to indoor air pollutants is probably more significant.
Indoor air pollutants include house dust mites and their droppings, pet dander (bits of skin), feather-bedding*, tobacco smoke, bird droppings, mould spores, tobacco smoke, and nitrogen dioxide and sulphur dioxide emissions from gas cookers and appliances. House dust mites thrive in a warm, moist environment and live in carpets and soft furnishings, so modern centrally-heated, double glazed homes are just the right for them. It is much easier for people to blame fumes from cars and lorries for the increase in asthma, than it is to blame the dog and the fitted carpet and the double glazing that you just paid thousand of pounds for.