29 May Asthma Mini-Guide: Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment
Asthma is a common condition affecting roughly one in every 11 people in the UK or one in five households. Of the 5.4 million people with asthma in this country, 4.3 million are adults and 1.1 million are children.
Around a quarter of a million have the condition so severely that they struggle even to climb the stairs. Rates of asthma in the UK are some of the highest in Europe.
On average, three people a day die from asthma in this country and around two thirds of these deaths are believed to be preventable. The NHS spends more than one billion pounds a year treating the condition.
What is Asthma?
Asthma is a long-term health condition that affects the airways. If you suffer from asthma it means the tubes that carry air in and out of your lungs have become sensitive. If they come into contact with certain trigger substances they may become irritated and inflamed, causing them to narrow and produce a sticky mucus or sputum.
When your airways narrow, it causes a sensation of tightness in your chest and difficulties breathing normally. When someone is having an asthma attack, they struggle to breath and may be unable to speak or ask for help. This can be a very frightening experience.
The symptoms of asthma include:
- Tightness in the chest
- Coughing and wheezing
They may not be present all the time and may tend to be worse at particular times of day. Coming into contact with something that triggers your symptoms can cause an asthma attack. This can be relatively mild, caused by the airways becoming slightly restricted, or severe, which means the airways close so much that air cannot reach the lungs. A severe asthma attack is a medical emergency. It can cause:
- Quickened heartbeat
- Rapid breathing
- Dizziness or fainting
- Confusion and drowsiness
The factors that trigger an asthma attack can vary from person to person. Allergies are a common cause, particularly among children. Some common triggers for asthmatic symptoms include:
- Cigarette smoke
- Pollution and heavy fumes
- Air-borne allergens (including pollen, animal fur, feathers and dust mites) and food allergies
- Exposure to chemicals in the home, including cleaning and decorating products
- Exposure to mould or damp in the home
- Intense exercise
- Certain types of medication including aspiring and ibuprofen
Causes of Asthma
Scientists are unclear precisely what the causes of asthma are but it may be linked to:
- A family history of atopic conditions such as asthma, eczema or hay fever.
- Exposure to tobacco smoke as a child or in the womb.
- Contracting bronchitis as a child.
- Being born prematurely or having a low birth weight.
- Chlorine in swimming pools.
You will need to see a respiratory consultant who will discuss your family medical history carry out a breathing test to confirm whether or not you have asthma.
A Peak Flow Meter is a device to measure the amount of air you breathe out and can determine if you have restricted airways.
Asthma: Treatment and Prevention
If you receive a confirmed diagnosis of asthma you will normally be given a preventer inhaler which is used to try and prevent an asthma attack and a reliever inhaler which can be used if symptoms occur.
You may also be offered medication, such as montelukast, which can help to manage asthma symptoms, and a consultation with an immunologist to identify allergens that may trigger your symptoms. A physiotherapist can assist with breathing exercises and, if you smoke, you will be encouraged to give up. Maintaining a healthy weight can also help.
While asthma can be a lifelong condition, there are a number of effective treatments both to manage the symptoms and to prevent them from arising. If you are asthmatic it is a good idea to learn as much as you can about what triggers your condition so you can avoid exposing yourself to trigger substances wherever possible.
Talk to us if you require support or information about your condition.
Expert help is available to help you to better understand, manage and improve symptoms related to your respiratory health.
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