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Asthma

Asthma is a condition that can make it difficult for you to breathe. The number of people getting asthma is now increasing all over the world, especially in children and young people. There are about 5.2 million people in the UK affected by asthma.

People get asthma when something irritates their airways (the tubes that take air in and out of your lungs). The airways then become inflamed and the muscles around them get tighter. This makes it harder to breathe and creates the asthmatic ‘wheezing’ sound.

The problems with breathing do not usually happen all the time but they come on every now and again. This is an asthma attack. Sometimes it is possible to work out what triggered it, for example; dust, cigarette smoke, pet hair.

What do you feel?

Go to your GP or come in and see us if you think you have asthma. We will ask you some questions and ask you to do a peak flow test which measures how well you are breathing (all you have to do is blow into a tube).

Asthma can cause:

  • Difficulty with breathing
  • A tight chest
  • Coughing, which is usually worse at night
  • Wheezing (a sound like whistling that comes from your chest)

Some people have mild asthma with symptoms only once in a while, and some people get severe asthma where they need to go into hospital.
You might find that you grow out of asthma as you get older. Sometimes it goes away for a while and comes back again.

What causes asthma?

Experts do not know exactly what causes asthma, but there are some things we do know:

  • Asthma runs in families
  • Asthma is much more common in people with allergies, though not everyone with allergies gets asthma and not everyone with asthma has allergies
  • Pollution may cause asthma or make it worse. It is not contagious (you cannot pass it on to your friends or enemies).

What triggers an asthma attack?

Different things can trigger an asthma attack for different people but here are some of the common triggers:

  • Pets
  • Exercise
  • Dust
  • Pollen
  • Weather
  • Cigarette smoke
  • Strong perfumes
  • Colds and feeling ill

It is useful to know what your triggers are because you can avoid them or take your inhaler before you are exposed to them.

How is it treated?

Asthma cannot be cured but most people manage to keep it under control with some medications.

It is always a good idea to avoid triggers when possible. There are some triggers you don't want to avoid, like exercise, because it is fun and actually overall good for your health. Some triggers you cannot avoid, like getting a cold.

You can help control and treat your asthma using inhalers. There are two types of inhalers:

Relievers

  • These are usually blue. They will help you straight away if you have problems with your breathing and you should keep a reliever with you wherever you go. They do not last long but act very quickly.

Preventers

  •  These can be all sorts of colours. They act over days and weeks to reduce the inflammation in your tubes. If you take them during an acute asthma attack, you will not notice the difference like you do with a reliever.  When you feel well, it is easy to forget taking these inhalers but if you take them regularly, they will reduce the number of attacks you have and maybe stop your asthma reacting to triggers.

What treatment you are given depends on how bad your asthma is. Your doctor or nurse might prescribe you a reliever and a preventer. If your asthma is mild and you don't get many attacks, they might just give you a reliever. You can also use a Spacer.  These are plastic things which you put your inhaler into and breathe through. Our nurse can show you how to use one. They help get the medicine into your lungs rather than getting stuck in your throat.

There are lots of different types of inhalers and it is important to use one which you are comfortable with. Come in and ask us or go to your GP if you are unhappy with your inhaler and we can see if there is another one which is better for you. Keep your reliever handy. You might like to have a spare one for school/ college.

Oral tablets: If your asthma is very bad, your doctor might prescribe some tablets to take. Usually, these are steroids (to damp down the inflammation in your lungs) or antibiotics (to fight any infection). You usually only have to take these for a very short time until you feel better.

What if you have an asthma attack?

It is important to plan what you will do if you have an asthma attack with your doctor and nurse. Ask them for an asthma plan especially for you. Even if you only have mild asthma ALWAYS carry your reliever inhaler with you.

When you are having an asthma attack you should:

  • Keep calm
  • Get your reliever. Take 2 puffs. Use your spacer
  • Tell someone what is happening
  • Sit down. Keep calm, try and take long slow breaths in.
  • Take another puff on your reliever. Take one puff of your reliever inhaler every minute for five minutes or until symptoms improve.
  • If you are not feeling better in 5-10 minutes, call an ambulance and keep taking your reliever.  You know your condition better than anyone else, if it feels different to you insist on an ambulance.
  • Continue to take one puff of your reliever inhaler every minute until help arrives.

Don't worry. Most asthma attacks get better with a reliever. If you do get better, see your doctor soon to make sure that you don't need any more medications.

For more information about asthma attacks visit www.asthma.org.uk.

Exercise and asthma

For some people with asthma, exercise does not trigger an attack. This is good news and you can exercise like everyone else. In fact, exercise might help reduce the number of attacks you get.

For others exercise can make your asthma worse, but there are lots of things you can do to make sure you don't get an attack when you exercise. If you exercise regularly and build up gradually, the chance that you will have an attack will reduce. Swimming is often a great exercise for people with asthma.

Some famous athletes have asthma including the runner Paula Radcliffe, and Paul Scholes who plays football for England and Manchester United.

Tips for avoiding exercise induced asthma:

  • Make sure your day to day asthma is under control
  • Use your asthma reliever medication about 5-10 minutes before you start to exercise
  • Always warm up with light exercise and stretching for 10-15 minutes before you start
  • Always cool down and take your time
  • If you get symptoms (cough, wheeze, breathing problems, chest tightness) during the exercise, stop what you are doing.
  • Take 4 puffs of your reliever medication
  • Wait 4 minutes and see if the symptoms have gone
  • You can restart if they have gone but if they start again when you start exercising then stop, use your reliever, and don't try exercising again that day.

Don't let asthma get you down. Live your life to the full.

Related Questions

  • Age: 14
    Gender: Female

    Question:

    ive got a blood test in a couple of weeks and im scared coz I've been told they inject into ur vein, could you tell me what they really do because im dreading it :/

    Answer:

    A blood test is a very routine test, and the person doing it will be very proficient. A very thin needle is inserted into a vein, usually in the bend of your arm where veins are prominent, and a small amount of blood is taken out.  It can be uncomfortable but not really painful; the thought of it is worse than the reality. 

    It is possible to have some numbing cream put on beforehand. This takes about 20-40 minutes to work, so sometimes it is better to get it over with quickly than get even more anxious while waiting for the cream to work!

  • Age: 14
    Gender: Female

    Question:

    ive had a bladder problem for over half of my life, and its got worse. ive just managed to get some medication for it, would i be on them for long?

    Answer:

    As you have had this condition for most of your life you probably have a specialist or your doctor who sees you regularly. If this is the case its probably best to speak with them as they will have good picture of the history. Having said that we would be very happy to talk through your condition and treatment and help clarify any questions or concerns you may have. Naturally we would need more information which would best shared in a private consultation. If you are local please drop in to one of our clinics or if you are further away give us a call and we can talk on the phone.

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