In asthma, the lining of the bronchi is inflamed, causing increased mucus formation and a tendency for the bronchi to become constricted. The inflammation increases the sensitivity of the bronchi to many triggers. Asthma occurs in about 10% of the population and may develop at any age. Asthma is a chronic condition, but thanks to effective medication nearly all patients can lead a full life.
Risk factors for asthma include allergies, a family history of asthma, allergic rhinitis, other upper respiratory tract conditions, smoking and being overweight.
The symptoms of asthma are diverse and can vary even in the same patient at different times. Symptoms are particularly common at night and in the morning. Typical symptoms of asthma include cough, mucus production, wheezing and shortness of breath. Wheezing and shortness of breath usually occur as you breathe out. In some people symptoms occur only during exertion.
The symptoms of asthma are made worse by respiratory tract infections and inhaled allergens (such as pollen and animal dander), physical exercise, cold air and tobacco smoke.
Symptoms of early asthma often come and go, with lengthy symptom-free periods between symptomatic episodes.
When should I seek examination and treatment?
Contact a healthcare professional if you have recurrent respiratory tract infections with persistent cough, shortness of breath and/or wheezing; if you have exertion-related shortness of breath and/or wheezing; or if you have persistent, phlegmy cough that wakes you up at night.
Asthma examinations include a clinical examination, PEF tests, spirometry and possibly also imaging and allergy tests. The examinations should be performed carefully, so that any subsequent development of asthma can be compared with earlier findings.
Asthma is treated with inhaled cortisone, which is safe even in long-term use. All patients with asthma should have emergency bronchodilatory medication available as this relieves asthma symptoms rapidly. Your doctor may prescribe you a combination inhaler, which contains cortisone to treat the inflammation as well as a long-acting bronchodilator.
If you’ve been diagnosed with asthma and you’ve been using medication to relieve your symptoms regularly for 6 months, you can apply to Kela for special reimbursement.
Asthma requires regular, long-term treatment to prevent symptoms recurring and to maintain a good quality of life. You should not stop your asthma medication independently even if your symptoms disappear.
If left untreated, asthma can cause permanent changes in the bronchi, which shows as an irreversible decrease in lung function and the related lung function tests. The aims of treatment are to relieve symptoms, achieve normal lung function and prevent exacerbations (flare-ups). Easing of symptoms usually just means that your asthma medication is working.
If you have been diagnosed with asthma before you start your studies and you need a check-up, please use our appointment booking system.
Information sources: The Finnish Medical Society Duodecim: Terveysportti, Lääkärin tietokanta database
FSHS General Practitioner / 13 May 2022