According to research from Asthma UK, one of the UK’s leading asthma charities, around 5.4 million people are being treated for asthma and an average of 3 people a day die from the condition. Asthma affects the airways of the lungs, restricting their ability to take in and breathe out air. The condition should never be taken lightly as it can suddenly make someone very ill.
1. Symptoms of Asthma
Symptoms include coughing, wheezing, feeling breathless or your chest feeling tight. However not everyone experiences all of the symptoms and these might be mild or serious. It is also possible to have seasonal asthma as a reaction to a trigger such as hay fever. Coughing can be more frequent at night or in the early morning and it may also include a wheezing sound. A wheeze is a high whistling sound from the airways. It mostly occurs when breathing out. A wheeze may not be there all the time, just when the asthma has flared. Being breathless can happen after light or moderate activity and it may occur quickly or gradually. This symptom can include breathing out or in and people may find it difficult to talk because they are struggling to breathe, or even eat or sleep. Experiencing tightness of the chest may feel as though there is a heavy weight on it. People may feel a sharp stabbing or a dull ache in the chest and it may make it hard to breathe in.
2. Risk factors for Asthma
People may be more likely to develop asthma if they have other allergy-related conditions, including hay fever or eczema. There may be a family history of asthma, or if a mother smoked while pregnant, her baby may be more likely to develop the condition. A premature-born baby might be more likely to develop it, or if a child has had a lung infection known as bronchiolitis.
3. Asthma Triggers
Triggers that cause asthma can include moulds and fungi, emotions, stress and anxiety, female hormones, recreational drugs, animals and pets or the environment they live in, e.g. hay, dust mites, pollen, colds and flu, chest infections, food allergies, pollution, cigarette smoke, sex, winter triggers such as cold and alcohol.
4. Treatment of Asthma
Treatment can include reliever inhalers (usually blue) and preventer inhalers. Reliever inhalers can be used at any time that the symptoms of asthma increase and help to open the airways. Preventer inhalers are intended to stop inflammation in the airways. This makes the condition less likely to react to the usual triggers. The effects build up over time, so it is important to take the preventer inhaler even when you feel well. Other treatments can include tablets to help control the condition, a short course of steroids if you have a chest infection or a combination inhaler which contains both preventer and reliever.
5. Children and Asthma
If a parent suspects that their child may have asthma, it is important to talk to their GP and have their child tested. The charity Asthma UK has a step by step guide for parents who are concerned about their child, to help them get their child diagnosed and manage their asthma.
6. Severe Asthma
Some people develop a condition known as severe asthma, where the symptoms do not get better with the usual medicines prescribed for the condition. The condition is very individual to the person, but can include more frequent symptoms and asthma attacks, which can be life-threatening. the condition can be developed at any age and can be triggered by hormonal changes or pneumonia. It can take time to get a diagnosis and to find the right combination of medication to help. It can stop people doing the things they love for a while until it is under control again. Medication has been developed particularly to help severe asthma.
7. Long-term damage to the Lungs
Severe asthma can cause long-term, permanent damage to the lungs, described as ‘airway remodelling’. This means that the lung airways become thicker and narrower, making it difficult to breathe. This can happen through more frequent asthma attacks. To reduce the risk, people need to practise good asthma management including regular medicine reviews, avoiding possible triggers and quitting smoking. People may need to see their GP for a referral to a consultant if they are working hard to manage their condition, but the symptoms are continuing or increasing.
8. Symptoms of an Asthma Attack
Being breathless and the blue reliever isn’t helping, has been needed more than every 4 hours
Wheezing has increased, chest feels tight or coughing has got worse or more frequent
Feeling breathless which makes it difficult to walk or talk
Breathing is getting faster and it is more difficult to breathe in
9. SMART or MART Regime
If someone is on a MART or SMART regime, then they should have different information on what to do in the event of an asthma attack. MART is an abbreviation of Maintenance and Reliever Therapy and people who are on this regime have both their reliever and preventer inhalers in one device. This is normally prescribed for someone whose asthma is not responding well to more traditional therapies. People on this regime should have a written asthma plan so that they know what to do in the event of their condition getting worse. If someone is not sure whether they are on the regime, then they should ask their GP or asthma nurse
10. What to do if you or someone nearby is having an Asthma Attack
- Sit up straight. Try to keep calm
- Take one puff of the reliever (blue) inhaler every 30-60 seconds. Take up to 10 puffs
- If they feel worse or 10 puffs of the reliever has not helped, call 999
- After 15 minutes, take one puff of the reliever inhaler (blue) every 30-60 seconds for up to 10 puffs
For more information on asthma, check out the Asthma UK website.