With over 5.4 million sufferers in the UK alone (the equivalent of 1 in every 12 adults and 1 in every 11 children), we probably all know someone who has asthma.
But how much do we really know about it? For example, did you know every 10 seconds someone in the country has a potentially life-threatening asthma attack? Or that the UK has one of the worst asthma death rates in Europe? The death rate has increased by more than 20% in five years.
Specialists believe this could be down to patients missing out on basic care, as well as a lack of awareness to the seriousness of the condition. Here, the experts give us the low-down on asthma…
We reveal the causes, complications and the best ways to curb symptoms of asthma:
Asthma is caused by inflammation of the bronchi (the small tubes that carry air in and out of the lungs). When you come into contact with something that irritates your lungs – known as
a trigger – your airways narrow,
the muscles around them tighten, and there’s an increase in sticky mucus production.
It’s not fully understood why we develop asthma, although it’s more likely to occur if you have a family history of the condition. Remember it’s not just a childhood disorder either – asthma can develop at any age, even in elderly people.
Symptoms can range from mild to severe, explains NHS UK, but look out for wheezing (a whistling sound when you breathe), shortness of breath, a tight chest (which may feel like a band is tightening around it) and regular coughing. These symptoms may become worse at night or early in the morning. If you think you or your child might have asthma, speak to your GP immediately.
Indoor pollution levels can be this much higher than outside, according to cleanairday.org.uk. Open windows and use a dehumidifier.
Other things can also trigger asthma, including:
- House dust mites
- Animal fur
- Cigarette smoke
- Viral infections
Experts reveal the best ways to help ease your asthma symptoms:
- Manage your triggers
Pollution can be a problem for asthmatics. ‘Pollutants like dust, soot, diesel and traffic fumes irritate airways and trigger symptoms,’ says LloydsPharmacy pharmacist Anshu Bhimbat. ‘Check pollution levels before you leave the house and avoid busy car junctions, bus stops and car parks on high pollution days.’
- Try a breathing aid
Frequently feeling breathless? Try a breathing aid, such as the Powerbreathe Wellness Trainer Light Resistance, £27.45, says Anshu. It may improve the strength of muscles used to breathe and can be used with an inhaler as a drug-free treatment.’
- Attend your review
Despite it being an essential part of managing symptoms, research by LloydsPharmacy found that 20% of asthmatics skip their GP annual review and 13% never attended one. LloydsPharmacy offer a free Respiratory Support Service, where pharmacists can advise on inhaler technique and combat any side effects.
- Make a PAP (patient action plan) with your doctor
This helps you stay in control, explains Dr Thomas Antalffy, Founder and Managing Director of Smart Peak Flow (the world’s first medically certified asthma monitoring device that plugs into your smartphone, smartpeakflow.com)
- Stay active and healthy
‘Exercise improves lung capacity and your immune system, while a healthy diet can mean less processed foods that contain ingredients which asthmatics are allergic to,’ adds Dr Antalffy.
- Dealing with attacks
Asthma can be controlled most of the time, but occasionally symptoms can get suddenly or gradually worse (sometimes taking a couple of days to become serious). This is known as an asthma attack or acute asthma exacerbation. Signs can include:
– Breathing faster.
– Your reliever inhaler doesn’t ease symptoms as much as usual or at all.
– Wheezing, coughing and chest tightness becoming severe and constant.
– Being too breathless to eat, speak or sleep.
– A rapid heartbeat.
– Feeling drowsy, exhausted or dizzy.
– Lips or fingers turning blue.
Call 999 immediately if you or somebody else is showing symptoms of a severe asthma attack.
Treatment for asthma:
While there’s no cure for asthma, there are treatments that can help control the condition. These help to relieve symptoms and prevent future attacks.
More often than not, treatment will involve taking daily medication in the form of an inhaler. But getting the technique right can be tricky. ‘If your asthma symptoms are flaring up, poor inhaler technique could be the root cause,’ warn the experts at asthma.org.uk.
Here are the common mistakes you might be making when managing your asthma…
- Not breathing in the right way for the inhaler you have. If you have a pMDI (pressurised Metered Dose Inhaler), breathe in slow and steady. At the same time, press the canister on the inhaler once. Continue to breathe in slowly over four seconds, until your lungs feel full.
- Have a dry powder inhaler? Breathe in quickly and deeply until your lungs feel full, to make sure you inhale all the medicine.
- Forgetting to shake your inhaler first. Some need it, some don’t. Asthma.org.uk have created a video for every type of inhaler, so check them out.
- Not waiting between puffs. With some inhalers you need to wait 30 to 60 seconds before taking the next puff, to give the medicine and propellant (what forces the medicine out) enough time to mix together.
- Not having a tight lip seal. When you breathe in, ensure your lips are tightly clamped around your inhaler so the whole dose of medicine goes where it’s needed most.
- Not holding your breath after taking your inhaler. This is a must, if you have been advised to do this. It keeps your airways still, giving the medicine more time to settle in your lungs.
Visit asthma.org.uk for more information.
They can also advice and support on managing the condition.