This page focuses on asthma in adults. For information about children with asthma, see asthma in children.
Asthma is thought to be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors.
Asthma and allergies are closely linked. About 70 to 80% of asthma in New Zealand is associated with allergies. Often people with asthma also have eczema (allergic skin rash) or hay fever, or have close family members who have asthma, eczema or hay fever. The tendency for these 3 conditions to occur together is known as atopy. If you are atopic, allergies can be a trigger for your asthma.
Certain things in our environment thought to have a role in causing asthma include:
Asthma is ongoing and your symptoms may come and go.
If you have any of these symptoms, see your doctor so they can assess if this is due to asthma or something else.
Severe asthma symptoms
From time to time, your symptoms may get gradually or suddenly worse. Seek urgent medical help if you have any of these severe symptoms:
Learning what triggers your asthma and finding ways to avoid or reduce the effects is an important part of managing your asthma.
Common asthma triggers include:
In most cases, asthma can be diagnosed from:
In some cases, more detailed testing may be required, such as a skin-prick test to test for allergens or, rarely, a chest x-ray to rule out other conditions.
Once a diagnosis is made, your doctor will prescribe the type of medicines you need to take and will set up an asthma action plan. This plan reminds you how to manage your asthma every day and how to recognise and manage your asthma when your symptoms get worse.
While asthma cannot be cured, the correct use of medication combined with other self-care measures means that symptoms can be well controlled in most people.
The main aims of asthma treatment are to:
There are many different types of asthma medicines and sometimes you will have to take more than one. These are usually puffers or inhalers but may also be tablets.
People with asthma are at increased risk of complications from the flu, even if their symptoms are mild or well-controlled by medication. Complications include pneumonia (lung infection), heart failure and worsening asthma symptoms. The flu is also associated with increased risk of hospitalization for people with asthma.
There are many things you can do to improve how well your asthma is controlled. By working with your doctor or nurse to create an asthma action plan, you can reduce how bad your asthma symptoms are and how often you have them.
Read more about an asthma action plan.
Asthma New Zealand provides education, training and support to individuals with asthma/COPD and their families. Read more
Living with asthma Asthma & Respiratory Foundation NZBreathe Better September Asthma & Respiratory Foundation NZFamily health history Genetic Science Learning Centre, University of Utah, USA, 2015Rhinitis and asthma – Combined allergic rhinitis and asthma syndrome World Allergy OrganizationTools and resources Centre of Excellence in Severe Asthma, Australia, 2018