What is Asthma?

Lung showing normal and asthmatic lung
Asthma is a chronic condition of the airways, constricting the tubes that allow the passage of air in and out of our lungs, making it difficult to breathe.

Asthma affects 235 million people worldwide. It's a chronic condition of the airways – the small tubes that carry air in and out of our lungs. Asthma causes these small tubes to become blocked, tightened or swollen, making it difficult to breathe.

Asthma is not age-specific and can affect both children and adults. It affects different people in different ways and can be mild, moderate or severe.

Mum helping child with asthma attack
Mum helping child with asthma attack

What are the symptoms?

Those suffering from asthma may experience:

  • Wheezing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest tightness
  • Coughing fits
  • Dry, irritating, persistent cough, particularly at night and early morning

What happens during an asthma attack?

There are 3 main things that can happen during an asthma attack. These are:

  • Inflammation: The inside of the airways become red and swollen
  • Extra mucus: Your body may produce a sticky liquid that can build up in the airways and cause a blockage
  • Bronchoconstriction: The muscles around your airways tighten, making it harder to breathe

These factors make it harder for air to pass through the airways and results in the symptoms mentioned above. If left untreated, asthma can be dangerous and may cause permanent damage to the airways.

Is asthma curable?

No, asthma is an incurable condition. However, in this day and age there are great asthma treatment options available that allow those suffering from asthma to lead a normal and active life. By talking to your doctor you can establish the best management plan specific to your type of asthma. If you manage your asthma well, you should only have occasional symptoms.

What is the difference between intermittent and persistent asthma?

Intermittent and persistent asthma are categories used to describe the frequency of your symptoms and attacks. These categories are determined by the regularity of your asthma symptoms before you are put on medication.


Intermittent asthma is when you don’t have asthma symptoms all the time, but you may have symptoms that come and go. These symptoms may be mild, moderate or severe asthma attacks. People with intermittent asthma don’t usually need daily asthma medication and may instead be prescribed with a quick reliever medication. If you have more frequent symptoms you may also be prescribed with a preventer.


Persistent asthma is when your symptoms and attacks are more regular. In this case your doctor will most likely prescribe you with a preventer to control these attacks and symptoms. The amount of medication you need to take will depend on whether your asthma is mild, moderate or severe.

What do I do if I think I have asthma?

Asthma can develop at any stage in your life. If you are experiencing asthma symptoms you should get checked by a doctor. If you have asthma your doctor will talk you through the best management plans and prescribe you with the suitable medication.

To learn more about first aid management for asthma, read Guideline 9.2.5 [PDF] by the Australian Resuscitation Council.

If you are required by your workplace to be certified in first aid, check out our first aid courses.

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