In the physiological sense, asthma symptoms are caused by the inflammation of the fine tubes, airways that transport oxygen we breathe in into the lungs, also known as bronchi. When a person is exposed to various substances, usually called triggers, the airways will become irritated and inflamed, resulting in restricted airflow. Allergens, infections and environmental stimuli can all play a significant part in this process.

Once the airways are narrowed and obstructed, the tell-tale signs will appear:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Coughing
  • Wheezing
  • Tight chest and a sense of pressure

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What are the causes of asthma?

As of now, there is no consensus among the scientists and medical experts regarding the exact causes of asthma. However, various scholars and researchers forwarded theories that link this condition to both genetic, hereditary factors and environmental factors. While there is no definitive answer yet, mostly statistical research has allowed us to make a list of the risk factors. In other words, a person is more likely to develop asthma if:

  • There is a family history of asthma
  • Eczema has been diagnosed
  • The person was born prematurely and needed the use of a ventilator
  • The person was exposed to tobacco smoke as a child or the mother smoked during pregnancy
  • The person had low birth-weight

Prior to 15 years of age, boys are somewhat more likely to develop asthma, as opposed to girls. However, after puberty, women are significantly more likely to be affected as opposed to men, and this is usually attributed to change in hormones, especially just prior and after the menopause occurs.

Asthma is also more likely to occur when someone has a genetic predisposition and is exposed to allergens that tend to cause a reaction. According to WHO, the bottom line is that asthma is, like many other conditions, 50% caused by hereditary and 50% by environmental factors.1

Environmental factors

There is no doubt that our living conditions have a profound impact on our health and wellbeing. The same is true for asthma since exposure to certain environmental stimuli significantly increases the chances of developing this condition – as is proven by the fact that there is a significantly more pronounced prevalence of asthma in urbanized, western societies, as opposed to less developed countries.

A combination of indoor and outdoor factors can, in tandem, cause an allergic reaction that will result in asthmatic response. The most common factors of this kind include:

  • Air pollution
  • Animal dander
  • Dust mites
  • Smoke
  • Mould
  • Chemical fumes and vapours

With this in mind, it is not surprising that asthma is much more common in urban as opposed to rural areas, where children have greater chance of coming into contact with farm animals and parasites. This finding actually supported so-called hygiene hypothesis that states that exposure to a diverse range of microorganism in early childhood has a positive effect on building and strengthening the child’s immune system, but also its immunity to asthma and allergies.

Genetics and asthma

As is mentioned, hereditary or genetic factors play just as important role in the development of this condition as do the environmental factors. The on-going Genome Wide Association Studies (or GWAS for short) are searching for a link between specific genomes of our biological code and asthma Ideally, the studies will manage to show which specific genes make a person more or less likely to develop this condition.

In some families, the prevalence of asthma is rather pronounced. This is understandable since parents can pass asthma onto their children. What this means is that with genes playing such an important role, you might be predisposed to develop asthma from the very birth.

As of now, GWAS resulted in identification of around 100 genes which have been linked to asthma. Not all of these are related to the susceptibility of an individual, some of them also contribute to factors such as severity of the condition, treatment response and potential alterations of the lung or immune functions.

What can worsen asthma symptoms?

If you feel down right now, here is some good news – you might have genetic predisposition for developing asthma, but there are some things that you can do that will make your condition much more easily manageable. Proper treatment, reliever medicines and certain precautions can minimise the chances of experiencing an asthma attack or even spending time in the hospital.

One of the most important things to mention is that you must take your medication regularly, in accordance with doctor’s recommendation. Failure to do so can significantly worsen asthma symptoms. More specifically, you should be using your preventer medicine at roughly the same time each day, so it becomes a part of your daily routine. This way, you will help your body to manage its initial reaction to potentially dangerous allergens.

Not attending your regular check-ups at the doctor can also be rather harmful, since there might be some changes in your condition that you would be likely to miss yourself, but which wouldn’t escape the careful eye of an expert.

In addition, be sure to use those meetings to discuss your day-to-day life with your doctor so you can ensure the optimal effectiveness of your asthma action plan.

Can I prevent development of asthma?

Unfortunately, even with modern medical knowledge, it is still impossible to 100% prevent asthma from developing. The best you can do is try to avoid the triggers and take every precaution. If you have predisposition for developing this condition, coming into contact with a trigger that will cause a hyper-responsive reaction, this condition is, sadly, very likely to manifest.

As the time goes by, you will maybe start noticing changes in your condition, both for the better and for the worse. However, you can increase the chances of living free of the common asthma symptoms by taking certain precautions and living a healthy lifestyle. This includes:

  • Taking your medicine as prescribed by the doctor
  • Getting help to quit smoking if needed
  • Going to regular check-ups at the doctor
  • Vaccination against new strains of flu

With a combination of proper treatment, prescription medication, environmental awareness and healthy lifestyle, most of the asthmatics can manage their condition well enough to live fulfilling lives.


  1. Genetics and Asthma – World Health Organization