Understanding Asthma

Asthma is a disease affecting the airways. Three factors affect the airways, leading them to narrow:

  • Inflammation (swelling)

the airway walls become red and swollen. Decreasing and controlling this swelling is the key to managing asthma. Chronic swelling is thought to lead to more frequent asthma attacks and long-term damage.

  • Mucous (phlegm)

Excessive and sometimes sticky secretions can block up the airways

  • Airway narrowing

Small muscles around the airways tighten more easily, leading to narrowing of the airways. This leads to a drop in the amount of air that can be inhaled and can sometimes lead to wheezing.

Asthma & Your airways

The factors above can lead to difficulty breathing, wheezing and coughing. Asthma affects almost a quarter of all children in Malaysia and up to 15% of adults. Unfortunately, only 40% of Malaysian adults with asthma believe their symptoms are well-controlled. Do you think yours is well-controlled? Complete the Asthma Score to find out. 

Although asthma is incurable, it is very much controllable with the right management. 


There are many different expressions and experiences when an ‘asthma attack’ occurs. Below are a few examples.

“It’s a terrifying experience. I struggled to draw in full breaths”
“It feels like I am drowning”
“It feels like there is something heavy on my chest”
“It feels like there is a cloud in my lung”

Expressions vary, but they tend to be linked to the symptoms and signs of asthma. During an attack, inhalers do not seem to help and symptoms worsen despite repeated use. Symptoms may include:

Tightness in Chest



Difficulty Breathing


During an attack, the airways are more swollen, leading to greater obstruction. This makes it difficult for oxygen to enter the lungs and for carbon dioxide to be removed. The situation is worsened by muscles that press on the airways and increasing phlegm, leading to even narrower passages.

A mild attack will only last a few minutes and resolve either spontaneously or with a reliever. Severe attacks will progress even with inhaler use, and will require prompt assessment by a doctor. As the situation worsens, the patient may become more breathless to the point of having difficulty speaking or carrying out normal physical activities. Without adequate treatment, it will lead to respiratory failure and collapse.