What is asthma?
Asthma is a condition that inflames and narrows the air tubes in the lungs. When this occurs, it is difficult to get air in and particularly out of the lungs. The person with asthma, that is not well controlled, may be wheezy, breathless, have a cough or tight chest.
Asthma is not the same as bronchitis, where the patient has constant symptoms. With asthma, the symptoms can come and go, and their severity can vary significantly.
About two million adults in the UK are affected by asthma. It affects people of all ages, but is more common in children (approximately 10% to 15% of all children will have symptoms). There is a fact sheet on 'Asthma in Children'.
Among adults, women are more likely to develop asthma than men.
What causes asthma?
The small branches of the airway (bronchi) become inflamed and narrow when something irritates them. You might get this irritation from a reaction to very common things such as pollen, animal fur, or house dust. Sometimes it can be set off by infections caused by viruses like the common cold. Asthma can also come on during or after exercise, especially outdoor activities when it is cold.. This can be a particular problem for young people when taking part in sports.
If you have asthma, stress, emotional upset, and even laughter can make it worse. Other trigger factors can be car exhaust fumes, cigarette smoke or certain chemical fumes.
Asthma quite often comes and goes without any obvious reason and it tends to run in families.
What can you do to help yourself?
You can help a great deal by keeping a record of where and when your symptoms occur. Jot down anything that seems to set them off your. For example, does it happen at particular times of the day, week or year, in particular places or when you have been near an animal, perhaps a dog or cat?
The doctor or nurse may ask you to monitor your asthma with a peak flow meter. This device measures the speed of airflow blown out of the lungs; it can help you and your doctor manage your condition more accurately.
It is important that you always follow your doctor's directions carefully and take your medications as instructed.
What is the treatment?
Modern treatments are so good that most people with asthma can live life with the minimum of fuss. A large selection of inhalers, tablets, and medicines are available on prescription. Most treatments for asthma fall into two groups,
Relievers, called bronchodilators, work by relaxing the muscles in the airways, and controlling the symptoms. They can be taken by inhaler, as medicines, or in tablets.
Preventers, usually taken by inhalers, reduce the inflammation in the air tubes and so prevent the symptoms from occurring. Preventer drugs, called corticosteroids, sodium cromoglycate or leukotrienes antagonists, may take several days to build up their effect.
If you have a metered dose inhaler and have problems co-ordinating your breathing and inhaler, a spacer device may be used. This allows the inhaler to be sprayed into a chamber, the contents of which are then inhaled through normal breathing. This allows more medicine to get down into your lungs where it is needed.
What is a severe attack of asthma?
Any of these signs means that the attack is severe
Normal medication does not work
You are breathless enough to have difficulty in talking
You are pale or there is a change in the colour of your skin
You are lacking in energy and perhaps even feeling drowsy
Your heart rate seems to be increased
If you have a peak flow meter and you try to use it, the reading will be at least 50% less than your normal reading when you are well
What should I do in a severe attack of asthma?
Ring your doctor or an ambulance for immediate attention
Keep using your reliever (bronchodilator) therapy and don't worry, you won't overdose
If the doctor has given you an emergency supply of oral steroids (prednisolone, prednesol) take the stated dose now
In the meantime, you should sit up and lean gently forward. This will allow you to breathe as freely as possible.
Modern treatments for asthma are so good that most people can lead life with the minimum of fuss. It is important to follow all of the instructions for the drugs given. You must also try your best to avoid things that you know may set off an attack.
A natural solution can also be tried: Dry Salt Inhalers