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Today marks World Asthma Day which gives us an opportunity to explain a bit about this condition which affects around 5 million people in the UK, the treatment options out there, and how we as a community can help asthma sufferers. Asthma is debilitating, life-threatening, but very manageable with the right treatment. Understanding the condition is the first step in helping your asthma or that of a loved one.
What is the purpose of World Asthma Day?
World Asthma Day is organised by the Global Initiative for Asthma (GINA) annually to raise awareness of asthma and educate people on this condition. Each year this organisation produces materials and resources which can be downloaded for educational activities around the world. Awareness days such as these are so important to understand this condition, encouraging more research, and helping those who have the condition to cope.
So what is asthma and why does it happen?
If you’ve been having breathing difficulties or coughing symptoms for a while now you may be putting this down to the common cold or an allergy, which may well be the case, but there is also a possibility you may have asthma. Asthma is a respiratory condition that affects the lungs causing breathing difficulties, wheezing, and coughing.
Similar to an allergy, the body produces an inflammatory response in the airways when exposed to a certain trigger such as changes in weather, smoking, stress or exercise. The airways narrow and become inflamed when irritated, people with asthma have more sensitive airways which respond in this way when exposed to a trigger.
Why this happens is not fully known, or there isn’t one singular cause. Smoking, pollution, allergy, and stress can all bring on asthma, it may even run in your family. Asthma can develop at any age, however, childhood asthma is the most common type.
How can asthma affect your life?
Living with asthma has both physical and emotional effects on the sufferer. We all take breathing for granted, it’s natural, it’s not something we think about, but for asthma sufferers, breathing can be difficult, painful and uncomfortable, particularly during an attack. An asthma attack is something that looms over asthma sufferers, it is a severe episode of asthma that is potentially life-threatening, so much so that 3 people a day are killed by an asthma attack in the UK.
When an asthma attack strikes your symptoms will become worse, breathing difficulties are more severe so much so that you may struggle to speak as you can’t catch your breath, and your lips may turn a blue colour. It may be that your reliever inhaler (used to provide immediate relief of symptoms) may not be working in an attack, these symptoms and not being able to relieve your symptoms can cause a lot of distress for you and anyone around you but it’s important to stay as calm as possible.
The risks of an asthma attack can prevent some asthma sufferers from doing the things they love, whether that’s exercise or simply carrying out daily activities which are made difficult by the breathlessness and wheezing caused by asthma. Anything that prevents you from living your life normally or the way you would like to can cause serious emotional effects, for some, asthma can be a debilitating condition.
Asthma can affect all aspects of your life. Stressful moments in life such as exam season can be a big trigger of asthma which consequently might impact your education and your ability to achieve your best possible results. Your romantic relationships may also be affected as some people feel their symptoms get in the way or are embarrassed to use some methods of treatment such as an inhaler. Whichever way asthma affects your life, it’s important to know it doesn’t need to be a burden on your life as with the right treatment you can lead a normal and healthy life.
Coping with asthma
The best way to cope with asthma is getting a treatment plan in place and sticking to it, managing this condition is the way to reduce symptoms and prevent a deadly attack. Your action plan should include:
- Knowing your symptoms and triggers
- Medication that works for you
- What to do if an asthma attack occurs
Finding your triggers
Get to know your triggers by keeping a diary of what you’re doing and where you are when your symptoms occur. Over time you may see a pattern which may give you a clue of what is triggering your asthma symptoms. This is a crucial stage in the action plan as avoiding the triggers prevents the symptoms. Plus, you’re less likely to need medicine if your condition is well managed.
Finding medication that works for you
Asthma is a long term condition and it may mean that you’ll need to take medicine to control the symptoms. There are many medicinal methods of preventing an asthma attack and relieving symptoms if they occur. Whether it’s tablets, injections or inhalers, you and your specialist healthcare professional will work together to find a method that suits you and effectively manages your asthma.
Inhalers are a common method of treating asthma symptoms. An inhaler is a device used either to prevent symptoms (preventer inhaler) which is used daily to reduce the sensitivity of your airways and prevent them inflaming, or you may use an inhaler to relieve the symptoms when they happen (reliever inhaler) which will usually get to work in a few minutes. You may use these inhalers in conjunction with each other if necessary, and if inhalers alone are not properly managing your asthma then you may also need tablets such as Leukotriene receptor antagonists (LTRAs), Theophylline, or steroid tablets.
As it’s a long term condition, you may need to take medication for a long period of time. Doctor-4-U has a range of asthma treatments available to buy online and delivered to you at a convenient time to make managing your asthma easier.
Knowing what to do when an asthma attack strikes
If you’re not adequately controlling your condition there is a risk you may have an attack and knowing what to do when this happens is vital.
So, what do you do in an asthma attack?
You and the people around you may feel helpless when an asthma attack occurs but if you’ve read this you’ll hopefully be more clued up and well equipped to deal with this emergency.
First things first, don’t panic! Panicking may make your symptoms worse and if you’re someone witnessing an asthma attack your panicking may distress the asthma sufferer even more. Knowing what to do is sure to keep you calm anyway and you can get on with helping yourself or helping someone who is having an attack. You should also call 999 for emergency help if you’re not sure what to do or if the following methods have not brought your attack under control.
To ease an attack you should:
- Avoid lying down and take slow breaths while sitting upright
- Use your reliever inhaler - take 1 puff every 30 to 60 seconds (10 puffs maximum)
- Call 999 for an ambulance and repeat these steps while you wait for your ambulance
- If your symptoms have improved with using your reliever inhaler you should still seek medical help on the same day
How can non-asthma sufferers help those with the condition?
Around 5 million people are living with this condition in our community, so how can we ignore it? And are we doing enough to help those who have asthma?
Improve outdoor air quality
One of the biggest causes of asthma is the pollution in our environment which is a huge risk to public health. It’s one of the leading causes of respiratory illnesses and it all comes down to the lack of outdoor air quality and our increase in energy use.
You can’t move for traffic jams these days, with an increase in vehicles on the road comes an increase in air pollution, and this air pollution isn’t helping asthma sufferers. We can all play a part in reducing emissions, and a simple way of tackling vehicle emissions is by reducing the number of vehicles on the road, to do this use public transport, or better still take up bike riding.
Quit being a selfish smoker
Smoking is another big factor in the development of asthma, whether you have asthma yourself and smoke, or if you’re around people who smoke this can certainly worsen your condition or cause respiratory problems. The UK has done a lot to try and reduce the number of smokers and the banning of smoking in enclosed public spaces in 2007 has reduced our exposure to passive smoke significantly. We should always be mindful when smoking around people, especially those with respiratory problems such as asthma as this could trigger an attack.
If you live with someone who has asthma and you smoke be aware that you may be causing their symptoms and always smoke outside if necessary. If you’re a smoker with asthma giving up will significantly reduce your symptoms and your risk of attacks, we know it’s not easy but there is help available. Visit our stop smoking page for advice and tips on how to quit.
Make the workplace asthma-friendly
You can develop asthma in certain workplaces, this is known as occupational asthma. If you work in an environment where you’re exposed to a lot of dust, chemicals and fumes you’re likely to develop asthma even if you’ve never experienced it before. Employers should look for ways to reduce this exposure as much as possible, offering other job roles where necessary if a person develops asthma, or protecting them as much as possible in the first place to prevent cases of occupational asthma.
Offer practical and emotional support
If you have a friend, family member, or colleague who has asthma the best thing you can do to help and support them in understanding their condition and their experience of asthma (as each person experiences it differently), and get to know what to do if they were to have an asthma attack so you can help them in this emergency. Asthma can be a difficult condition to deal with alone so try to provide both practical and emotional support to those who suffer from asthma.