What is asthma?
Asthma is a condition affecting the airways – the tubes that carry air in and out of your lungs. With asthma the airways are more sensitive and they can become inflamed and tighten when you breathe. It is a common long-term condition, with more than 8 million people in the UK (over 12% of the population) diagnosed with asthma. It is also variable, meaning symptoms can come and go and people experience different severities of symptoms
What are the causes?
There are multiple different causes for asthma including:
· Family history – asthma and allergies tend to run in families
· Children with allergies can go on to develop asthma
· Smoking increases the risk of your child developing asthma
· Being born early
· Bronchiolitis (a virus that usually affects babies and young children under two years old. It leads to swelling in the lungs and airways)
· Exposure to triggers at work
What are the triggers?
An asthma trigger is anything that irritates your airways and sets off your asthma symptoms. There are lots of different triggers, and each persons triggers will be different. Some examples of triggers include:
· Animals and pets
· Chest infections
· Cigarette smoke
· Colds and flu
· Dust & dust mites
· Mould and damp
· Seasonal changes
· Stress & anxiety
· Strong smells
It is worth trying to establish what your triggers are if you don’t already know them. You may or may not be able to discover causes for your asthma. However if you do, it is best to avoid the trigger.
Managing your asthma
Why is it important to control your asthma? Because asthma can be a dangerous condition that can hospitalise, and rarely even be fatal if left uncontrolled. Getting into a good routine and managing your asthma will mean:
· You get no daytime symptoms
· You get no night-time waking due to asthma
· You don’t need to use reliever inhalers (usually the blue coloured ones)
· You don’t have any asthma attacks and don’t need emergency treatment
· Your lungs don’t suffer long-term damage
· The asthma doesn’t limit your daily life (including working and exercising)
It is possible to live with asthma and it not noticeably affect your life. That’s a realistic goal for many people with the condition.
How to manage your asthma:
1. Take your preventer inhaler regularly
Your preventer medicine builds up protection over time. It stops your airways from getting inflamed, which means you’re less likely to react to your triggers.
Sticking to a good routine of taking your preventer as prescribed will cut your risk of symptoms and an asthma attack. One way of helping to remember is the RightBreathe app (www.rightbreathe.com) which has a handy reminder tool to help remember your preventer inhaler.
It could mean you stay symptom-free, so you can get on with what you want to do in life without asthma getting in the way.
One of the main reasons we see patients with poor asthmatic control is because they give up on their preventer inhaler. They maybe ok for a few weeks, or a month, but then things worsen and then they don’t respond when they start to use the preventer. We cannot stress enough, if the surgery’s asthma team has recommended you use a preventer do keep up with it even if you feel well.
Some patients may use just one inhaler which contains a combination of medication to control your asthma. This is called maintenance and reliever therapy or MART for short. Further information on this treatment can be found at: www.asthma.org.uk/advice/inhalers-medicines-treatments/inhalers-and-spacers/mart/
2. Check your inhaler technique
There are different inhalers and devices out there and it is hard to know if you are using yours correctly. Using your inhaler correctly makes a big difference to how much medication gets into your airways where it is needed, which in turn will help control your asthma and prevent side effects.
You may also use a spacer device with your inhaler. These help you get the best from your asthma medication if using metered dose inhalers (MDIs). The spacer slows down the medication coming out of the inhaler and helps more of the medication get to the lungs. This makes your medication more efficient, so you may need to use less of it, which in turn can reduce the small risk of side effects.
For more information on inhaler and spacer technique and for helpful training videos for your device, please see the below link:
3. Go for your annual asthma review
A once-a-year review is a chance to check your asthma control, treatment and to assess your inhaler technique. It is worth going even if you feel well with your asthma, so we can make sure you are still doing the right things to reduce the risk of an asthma attack, and tell you about any new guidance or new research which might help you.
As part of the review we will check your peak flow, which is a measure of how quickly you can blow air out of your lungs. Some patients may have a device they can use at home as well. Measuring peak flow, alongside keeping a note of your asthma symptoms is a useful way to help manage your asthma better. With good asthma control, people can maintain their peak flow year after year. For information on how to use a peak flow device correctly please see the below link:
At the annual review you will also receive an asthma management plan. This will better equip you to manage and understand your asthma and symptoms. It also tells you what to do if your asthma gets worse. These reviews are run by the practice pharmacist, nurse and doctors. Please contact the surgery to arrange yours.
Other ways to support asthma management
Here are some other things you can do to help control your asthma:
· If you smoke, get support to quit – Smoking makes asthma symptoms worse and puts you at a higher risk of an asthma attack. Please contact the surgery to arrange stopping smoking support and for further information please see kick-it.org.uk/.
· Get advice on weight loss – losing weight where appropriate can make a real difference to your asthma and how well you can manage it.
· Get active – Getting active is good for your asthma, improving your stamina and helping your lungs to work better. Your lungs are like your muscles – the more you use them and stretch them, the longer they stay strong.
· Yearly flu vaccine – even if you have mild asthma, flu can trigger asthma symptoms and put you at risk of an asthma attack. Most asthmatics are entitled to a flu jab free on the NHS. Please contact the surgery to discuss further and arrange. Flu vaccines are normally available from mid September onward each year
www.rightbreathe.com/ – Get the free app via Apple App Store: apps.apple.com/gb/app/rightbreathe/id1171045042 or Google Play Store: play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.rightbreathe