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Asthma

Everything you need to know about living well with asthma

  • Introduction
  • Types
  • Symptoms
  • Daily Living
  • Support
  • Glossary

Introduction

We’ve put this guide together for people living with asthma or for anyone who knows someone with the condition, to help you understand it a little better.

We hope you find answers to some of the questions you may have about what causes asthma, what a diagnosis of asthma means, and which products and treatments can best help to ease the symptoms of asthma. If you are concerned that you may be experiencing any of the symptoms you read here, please see your GP.

Any medical information provided here is for informational purposes and does not replace advice given to you by a medical professional.

Introduction

What is asthma?

Asthma is a common condition that affects the tubes carrying air in and out of the lungs, causing them to be sensitive to irritants in the environment. When a person with asthma comes into contact with something that irritates their airways, their body reacts by making the airways narrower. This irritation and narrowing can make breathing difficult and cause symptoms such as chest tightness, wheezing, or coughing.

Asthma can affect people of all ages and often starts in childhood but can occur for the first time in adulthood. There's currently no cure for asthma, but there are treatments that can help keep the symptoms under control so that an asthma diagnosis does not have a significant impact on your life.

For more information on what asthma is, visit the Asthma UK web page Understanding Asthma

What causes asthma?

Asthma occurs when the body reacts to irritants that affect the lungs. Asthma causes:

• Tightening of the muscles around the airways, making them narrower

• Inflammation and swelling of the lining of the airways

• Mucus or phlegm to build up, resulting in further narrowing

People can react to different irritants in the air, home, workplace and environment. The most common irritants, known as ‘asthma triggers’ are as follows:

• Allergens e.g. animal fur, house dust mites and pollens

• Fumes and pollution e.g. cigarette smoke, car exhaust fumes

• Strong smells e.g. air fresheners, citrus fruits, cleaning products

• Gases

• Weather conditions – including sudden changes in temperature, cold air, windy days, thunderstorms and hot, humid days

• Exercise

• Chest infections

• Medicines – particularly painkillers called non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), which include aspirin and ibuprofen, and beta-blockers

• Emotions – including stress or laughter

• Food additives – including sulphites (often found in pickled foods, wine, beer and dried fruit) and tartrazine (a yellow food colouring)

• Mould, damp or chemicals in floors/carpets

You are more likely to develop asthma if there is a family history of asthma, or if your family has ever had allergies such as hayfever. Your chances of developing asthma also increase if you are a smoker, your parents smoke or if anyone in your family has been diagnosed with eczema. However, some people are diagnosed with asthma when there is no history of these conditions.

Did you know... "Asthma is a common condition that signifies an inflammation of the lung airways."

Types of Asthma

Here we discuss the different types of asthma you may be diagnosed with.

There are five main asthma types, some of which may be harder to diagnose than others.

The type of asthma you’re diagnosed with will depend upon your age, your specific asthma symptoms and what triggers your asthma.

Introduction

1. Childhood asthma

Getting an asthma diagnosis for children can take a long time, especially if they are very young. The effect that asthma will have on your child’s day to day life is impossible to predict. Some children will have mild symptoms that don’t affect them very much, whereas others may experience more intense difficulties. Some children diagnosed with asthma find that the condition improves or disappears completely as they get older but it is possible that it will return later in life. There is lots of help and support for parents of children living with asthma and various types of asthma treatment available.

2. Adult onset asthma

Asthma does not always start in childhood and adults can develop it at any time. Adult asthma is less likely to be triggered by allergens and more likely to be brought on by illnesses such as a cold, exercise, hormonal changes or irritants in the environment such as chemical fumes.

3. Severe asthma

Severe asthma is less common and only around 17 per cent of people receive this asthma diagnosis. Severe asthma may mean you have difficulty breathing most of the time and asthma episodes may be serious. Usually with severe asthma, symptoms do not improve much even with medicines. If you are diagnosed with this type, you will need specialist asthma support and treatments.

4. Occupational asthma

Occupational asthma is a type of asthma triggered by irritants or substances found in the workplace, such as chemicals, dust or wood.

5. Seasonal asthma

Seasonal asthma affects people at certain times of the year, for example, asthma symptoms may develop as a result of pollen in warmer months or cold weather in winter.

Asthma UK are a valuable source of information on the different types of asthma.

Did you know... "Asthma causes coughing, shortness of breath, chest tightness & wheezing (a whistling sound when breathing)."

Symptoms of asthma

Read on for information on common symptoms of asthma.

Everyone with asthma will experience their condition slightly differently, depending on what causes asthma in their case. Symptoms vary from person to person and may be different each day. If you think you have any of the symptoms below, it’s really important to have these checked, even if they seem minor. Asthma can develop at any age, so you could still have asthma even though you never had it as a child. Asthma symptoms can be managed with the right treatments, and some people become symptom-free with the right medication. If you are concerned about any of the symptoms you read here, please visit your GP.

Introduction

The most common asthma symptoms are:

• Breathlessness

• A tight chest

• Coughing

• Wheezing (a whistling sound when breathing)

Everyone experiences asthma symptoms differently and they range from mild to more serious. Asthma ‘attacks’ happen when symptoms worsen for a short amount of time, developing over a few days or sometimes occurring suddenly. Signs of an asthma attack include:

• Constant or severe wheezing, coughing and chest tightness

• Being too breathless to eat, speak or sleep

• Breathing faster

• Rapid heartbeat

• Drowsiness, confusion, exhaustion or dizziness

• Your peak flow score is lower than normal

• Blue lips or fingers

• Fainting

• Your inhaler doesn’t help

If you are having an asthma attack, here’s what you should do:

• Sit up straight and avoid lying down

• Try to keep calm

• Take one puff of your reliever inhaler (usually blue) every 30-60 seconds, up to a maximum of 10 puffs

• Call 999 for an ambulance if your inhaler is not helping or you are concerned about your breathing becoming increasingly difficult

Did you know... "Symptoms of asthma can range from mild to severe."

Living with asthma

Many people are able to live well with asthma.

Living with asthma will be a different experience for each individual depending on the severity of their condition and the effectiveness of treatments prescribed. Asthma does affect your life in lots of ways, but many people are able to live well with the condition.

Read on to find out more about the practicalities of living with asthma, including how it will affect your day to day life, the benefits of eating a healthy diet, products for asthma and the type of asthma treatments available.


Introduction

Impact on daily living

Most people living with asthma find ways to cope with their condition and manage their asthma symptoms so they can continue doing most of the things they usually do. Some people can even live symptom free when they are given the right asthma treatments. Whatever type of asthma you have, there is help available. Work with your GP or asthma nurse for specialist asthma support. They will be able to provide you with a treatment plan which usually involves using an inhaler.

Understanding your asthma triggers can really help, so carry a ‘triggers’ diary or notebook and write down where you are and what you're doing when your symptoms start or get progressively worse.

There are some tips for managing daily living, especially if you have moderate to severe asthma, on the My Lungs, My Life website

Asthma treatments

Asthma is a long term condition and there is currently no cure, but treatments can help you to live well with asthma.

Most asthma medications are taken using an inhaler, which delivers a spray or powder to your breathing tubes as you breathe in. There are two types of inhaler:

• Reliever inhaler – quickly relieves asthma symptoms for a short time. Usually contains short-acting ‘beta2-agonists’

• Preventer inhaler – used every day to reduce the inflammation in the breathing tubes, for ongoing prevention of symptoms and asthma attacks. Usually contains steroids.

You should also measure and record your ‘peak flow’ in order to help manage your condition. This is a special test where you take a deep breath in and blow fast into a meter. It helps you and your GP or asthma nurse to monitor if your treatments are working and how your lungs are functioning. A high peak flow is good and means your airways are not tight or inflamed.

By getting the right treatment for asthma, recording your peak flow and asthma symptoms, and reducing exposure to your asthma triggers, you will most likely find you can manage your condition effectively.

There is lots of information about the types of asthma treatments available on the NHS website.

Products for asthma

There are a number of products available that may help soothe your asthma, help reduce your symptoms or decrease the impact of your triggers. Allergy UK offers a range of approved products that help reduce exposure to allergens, including:

• Bedding, beds and mattresses

• Air purifiers

• Bed and carpet cleaners/vacuums

• Paint

• Floor coverings and ceiling panels

There are many complementary therapies and remedies available that some people with asthma believe help decrease their symptoms or improve their breathing. We recommend always checking with a healthcare professional before you go ahead with any of these. Find out more about the latest treatments on Asthma UK’s website

Daily living aids for asthma

If you have severe asthma or asthma that is difficult to control with medications, you may find some daily tasks become more difficult due to feeling short of breath. NRS Healthcare offers a range of products for asthma, known as ‘daily living aids’. These are designed to help you stay as independent as possible and provide support with getting dressed, having a shower, shopping, cooking and getting out and about.

Here are some daily living aids that you may find useful:

Perching Stool: enables you to sit down when doing household chores such as ironing or washing up

Shower Chair: enables you to sit down whilst washing in the shower

2 in 1 Rollator & Transit Chair: provides support when walking and includes a handy chair that a companion can push if you need a rest

Pedal Exerciser: if you find your symptoms worsen when you’re outside, try some gentle, seated, indoor exercise instead

If you are concerned that daily tasks are becoming difficult, you may require an assessment from an Occupational Therapist (OT) – contact your GP or local social services to arrange this. NRS Healthcare also has a team of OT’s that can help advise you which daily living aids for asthma are available and suitable for you. Contact them by email: productadvice@nrshealthcare.co.uk or telephone on 0345 121 8111.

Asthma diet

Eating a healthy, balanced diet with lots of fresh fruit and vegetables and minimal processed food is really important for everyone, especially those living with a long term condition such as asthma. There is no special diet for asthma you need to follow, but some people find that certain types of foods can be one of their asthma triggers. For example, some people find that sulphites (preservatives) found in pickled foods, condiments, processed meats and alcoholic drinks, such as wine and cider, can be one of their asthma triggers and therefore need to avoid foods containing the ingredient.

Some people swear by taking certain supplements for asthma including vitamins, minerals and herbs such as omega-3s or magnesium. There is little research to prove these are effective and we recommend you discuss the use of asthma supplements with your GP to ensure they will not interfere with your medical treatments.

Exercise for asthma

Regular exercise is important for everybody and people with asthma often feel that exercise improves their wellbeing, improves lung function, boosts immunity and helps reduce weight. There are many famous sports people with asthma, including, footballer David Beckham and Olympic cyclist Laura Trott. However, some people may find that certain exercises can make asthma symptoms worse. It is important to try to maintain a good level of fitness and find an exercise that you enjoy and can manage. If in doubt, you could speak to a professional fitness instructor, a physiotherapist or your GP.

Asthma and smoking

If you smoke and have asthma, quitting smoking can significantly reduce the severity and frequency of your asthma symptoms.

The NHS provides 10 self help tips to stop smoking which may help you to quit.

Asthma and employment

Most people receiving an asthma diagnosis are able to continue to work, however some people feel their condition can make their working life difficult at times. This is often due to taking sick days, experiencing symptoms whilst at work, asthma triggers present in the workplace and forgetting to take medication (inhalers) due to a busy workload. Stress can also bring on asthma symptoms. If you are having difficulty managing your asthma whilst at work, speak to your employer to find solutions.

There are some jobs you may not be permitted to do due to your asthma diagnosis, for example, jobs in the Fire Brigade or armed forces. Similarly, if your asthma is triggered by factors in your workplace, you may be unable to continue to work there.

Asthma UK offers advice on asthma and employment.

Did you know... "Asthma affects 5.4 million people in the UK, including 1.1 million children."

Support for Asthma

Remember, you are not alone!

There is a lot of help for people with asthma, and their families. There is a network of healthcare professionals to support you and a number of online resources providing an asthma explanation, and advice on how to manage the condition.

If you have asthma, it is a good idea to ensure you know what to do if an asthma attack occurs and for you to share this with friends, family and co-workers. The British Red Cross gives a useful overview of how to administer first aid to someone having an asthma attack

NRS Healthcare can also help. Our friendly team of Occupational Therapists are available over the telephone, via email or live web chat, to provide advice on what equipment can help you stay independent if your asthma is affecting your ability to do daily tasks. Contact them by on email: productadvice@nrshealthcare.co.uk or telephone on 0345 121 8111.

Introduction

Communities

There are many online forums and support groups where you can ask questions, talk to people in a similar situation or just feel that you’re not alone.

Asthma UK community forum – provides an opportunity to share experiences with other people who have asthma

British Lung Foundation Breathe Easy Support Groups – members groups around the UK which give the chance to meet people who are living with a lung condition

UK Asthma & Allergies Support Group – a Facebook group for sharing experiences of asthma and related conditions

Resources

Allergy UK – a patient led charity for people living with allergies and related conditions such as asthma

Asthma UK – the leading UK charity providing information, support services and world class research

British Lung Foundation – a UK charity supporting people with lung conditions by providing information online, advice helpline, and funding vital research

Chest, Heart & Stroke Scotland – a Scottish charity providing information and support for people experiencing health conditions affecting the chest or heart, or who have had a stroke

My Lungs, My Life – provides lots of advice and information about all aspects of living with asthma and other lung conditions

NHS – provides information about medical aspects of asthma, including symptoms, treatments and diagnosis

Did you know... "Asthma triggers can include allergens, exercise, smoke, pollution, or infections."

Glossary

Unsure what something means? Check out our Glossary section below.

Although we always try to explain things as simply and as clearly as possible, sometimes it’s necessary to use the correct medical terminology.

Medical terms are often known for being tricky to pronounce, and if you’re not an expert in the subject, they can also be a little difficult to understand. Below, we’ve put together a list of terms used on this page along with a brief explanation of what they mean to help make your understanding of asthma as straightforward as possible


Introduction

Beta2-agonists

- medicines that relax the airways of the lungs, making it easier for a person to breathe. They can be found in inhaled, pill, liquid, and injectable forms to provide quick relief in controlling asthmatic episodes.

Inhaler

- asthma inhalers are hand-held portable devices that deliver medication to your lungs. There are a variety of inhaler types and different medications to use in them.

Peak Flow

- refers to Peak Expiratory Flow rate which is a test used to measure how fast air can be exhaled from the lungs. The faster the air, the better the lungs are working.

Triggers

- things that cause asthma symptoms to begin or make them worse.


Last updated on 05/02/2019

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