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What is Asthma?

Asthma is a common respiratory condition described as a chronic inflammatory disorder that results in obstruction of airways. Specifically the smooth muscle of the bronchial walls constricts or may even go into spasm. An irritant such as dust, allergens, viruses or even just cold air can trigger an inflammation response. This restricts and in severe cases occludes the small airways in the lungs, lowering the available lung volume and so increasing the effort of breathing. The restricted airways and increased labour of breathing eventually lead to respiratory acidosis, and if untreated, the risk of respiratory failure. Fortunately, the majority of Asthma cases are mild and can be easily managed with an inhaler.

The trigger of chronic inflammation in the lungs can result from multiple different sources. However, the underlying cause of Asthma is still a subject of ongoing research. Factors believed to influence the development of Asthma include;

  • Genetic factors – Some genes have been identified as indicators of increased risk of developing certain types of Asthma. The genes in question concern the bodies’ immune response.
  • Auto immune response – Possible imbalance between two types of white blood cells, responsible for defence from infections and allergens respectively, could lead to an over-reaction from the immune system producing inflammation.
  • Environmental exposure –The lack of exposure, particularly in westernised countries, of children to certain types of infection, to microorganisms in outdoor settings and to high numbers of other children has reduced the balance of defensive white blood cells present in the lungs.

There are several other indicators that appear to correlate a higher risk of developing Asthma, which include childhood obesity, existing dust allergies and having a parent that smokes. Although the mechanism by which a child may develop Asthma is not yet fully understood, there are many recognised contributing factors. It is likely a combination of these factors, along with hereditary susceptibility, that leads to the development of Asthma.

What are the symptoms of Asthma?

For many people with only mild Asthma there may be no obvious signs of the condition, even under close examination, unless the person is having an asthmatic episode. Only with more severe types of Asthma will you have some persistent signs of the condition. These signs may include;

  • Abdominal breathing pattern, due to lung hyperinflation.
  • Unequal breathing sounds, due to greater airway restriction on one side.
  • Impaired breath sounds, like wheezing or crackling on exhalation.

However, during a specific Asthmatic episode the presentation of symptoms will be much more obvious. These symptoms may include;

  • Increased rate of respiration (breaths per minute).
  • Use of accessory muscles, around upper chest, to assist breathing.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Increased heart rate to above 100 beats every minute.
  • Audible wheezing and sounds of breathing difficulty.
  • Coughing in response to allergen or irritant exposure.
  • Anxiety or decreased level of consciousness.
  • If measured, blood oxygen saturation drops from above 95% to below 90%.

Even with the most severe types of Asthma you may go through long periods without showing any outward symptoms, or suffer an Asthmatic episode.

Active cycle of breathing exercises  and postural drainage exercises supervised by a specialist physiotherapistAbove: Active cycle of breathing exercises and postural drainage exercises supervised by a specialist physiotherapist

How is Asthma Diagnosed?

Your doctor will confirm a diagnosis of Asthma following a detailed subjective history concerning the presentation of past symptoms and Asthmatic episodes. Some tests, such as an exercise challenge, may be useful in determining the severity of the Asthma. Whereas allergy testing can be useful in identifying specific asthmatic episode triggers to avoid. You may be then referred to a physiotherapist for advice and training on controlled breathing techniques, lung clearance exercises and developing progressive exercise tolerance.

If you would like more information about how physiotherapy can help treat Asthma, or to book an appointment, please contact us via email at or call us on 0330 088 7800.

What would a physiotherapy assessment for Asthma involve?

At Liverpool Physio, we want to gain as much information as possible about your condition to ensure we give you the best treatment. In your first appointment with us, our physiotherapists will carry out an assessment which has two parts:


A discussion between you and our physiotherapist to find out what symptoms you are experiencing, and how your condition is affecting you and your lifestyle.


An assessment to discern the presence of any lung function or breathing limitation, and a series of special tests to identify the presence of any respiratory disorders or limitations. This would include lung function tests using Spirometry and Peak Flow testing along with examination by auscultation, using a stethoscope.

There can be great variation in the symptoms displayed, depending on the progression of the condition and any complicating factors. The assessment process will be important in identifying your current symptoms and needs, so that treatments can be targeted and effective.

What would physiotherapy treatment for Asthma?

At Liverpool Physio, Our physiotherapists will ensure you specialised treatment your presentation of Asthma. Depending on the severity of your condition your treatment may involve;

  • Breathing technique retraining:
    • Controlling respiratory rate
    • Diaphragmatic breathing
    • Controlling / reducing breath volume
    • Relaxation breathing exercises
  • Physical conditioning / exercise tolerance:
    • Benefits of exercise / addressing fear avoidance.
    • Developing appropriate exercise program.
    • Improve exercise tolerance / reduce breathlessness.
    • Improve general health and quality of life.
  • Secretion clearance:
    • Effective / productive coughing techniques.
    • Postural drainage in sitting and lying.
    • Manual assistance, including percussion, vibrations and shaking.
  • Education and Advice:
    • Disease cause and progression.
    • Effects of environmental and allergen factors.
    • Medication management
    • Recognising signs of Asthmatic episodes.

At Liverpool Physio you will experience a personalised treatment session. Each appointment will be aimed at returning to your everyday activities and what you enjoy.

How can I arrange a physiotherapy assessment for Asthma?

Please note that for emergencies you should first contact your doctor or local hospital. However, for non-emergency cases, if you are experiencing symptoms of Asthma and are having problems with breathing, one of our experienced physiotherapists will be happy to see you for an assessment.

You can contact us directly to arrange an assessment and we can advise you if further treatment is recommended, or give you details on self-management for minor cases. To arrange an appointment please email or call us on 0330 088 7800.


Asthma can cause anxiety about how to react in the event of an asthmatic episode. There can be a tendency to avoid any situations that may exacerbate the condition, leading to a reduction in quality of life. Our therapists will help you achieve your physical potential and educate you about your condition, relieving anxiety. Properly managed, the affects and limitations of Asthma can be largely mitigated, allowing you to pursue normal activities and enjoy a better quality of life.

If you would like more information about how physiotherapy can help treat Asthma, or to book an appointment, please contact us via email at or call us on 0330 088 7800.

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