Asthma is one of the most common medical conditions in the UK. It’s a condition of the respiratory tract, which are the tubes that carry air in and out of your lungs, and can cause occasional breathing difficulties. However, with the right treatment, it can be controlled, allowing you to live a healthy, active life.
This article will delve into the treatments available to control asthma. For more information on the condition as a whole, take a look at our in-depth guide. To learn more about the other common medical conditions affecting older people, take a look at our detailed guide.
Finding the Correct Asthma Treatment
Asthma is a serious condition, but it is also very controllable with the correct treatment. Taking prescribed medication consistently has a major impact. With the appropriate action, severe asthma complications are highly preventable. Each case is unique, and you may need to try different combinations of medications to find the right treatment for your asthma.
According to Asthma UK, when you find the right treatment and your medications are working well you should expect to notice the following:
- Reduction in daytime and night time asthma symptoms.
- Minimal impact on daily activities.
- Reduction in serious asthma complications such as asthma attacks.
An asthma action plan is a great way to keep on track of your medications, and when you should be taking them.
Treatment Options Available for Asthma
There are several treatments available for asthma, with the most common being inhaler treatment. In this section, we will go into more detail about the various options available.
Inhalers are generally used as one of the first treatments for the condition. They are a device that contains medication in a measured dose that you take into your airways as you breathe in. The two most common inhalers are the reliever and preventer inhaler. They work directly on the airways to make it easier to breathe, reduce inflammation, or to prevent symptoms from occurring.
Anyone diagnosed with asthma will be prescribed a reliever inhaler; these act to control the symptoms when they occur. It’s critical that a health professional teaches you how to use your inhaler correctly, as incorrect use may mean you are not inhaling enough of the medication. Typically, your inhaler technique will be checked annually when you have an asthma review. However, this can vary depending on the severity and control of your asthma.
These inhalers are often blue, and they contain fast-acting medication that can quickly treat your symptoms. They are also used in emergencies such as asthma attacks for emergency relief.
How do they work?
Reliever inhalers work very quickly, you should expect to feel relief within a few minutes. The medication acts straight on your lungs when you breathe in to relax the muscles around the airways, meaning your airways can open wider. This, in turn, allowing your breathing to return to normal. How and when you use the reliever inhaler depends on the severity of your asthma, and it is something you will discuss when you are prescribed it. According to the NHS, if you are using your reliever inhaler more than three times per week, you should discuss this with your GP or asthma nurse as additional treatments may be required.
- Overusing your reliever can mean your body gets used to the medication and you will then need higher doses for it to work.
- Make sure you go for your asthma review in time to ensure you are on the right treatment and to also avoid delays in getting your prescriptions.
Types of Reliever Inhalers
Relievers come in many different types:
- Metered dose inhalers (MDIs) - This inhaler deposits the medication in a spray form of the required dose. An example of this would be a Ventolin inhaler.
- Breath actuated inhalers (BAIs) - These also deposit the medication in a spray form, but unlike the MDIs, they automatically release when you breathe in. An example would be an Easi-breathe inhaler.
- Dry powder inhalers (DPIs) - These inhalers deliver the medication in powder form as opposed to a spray. An Accuhaler is a common example.
You should always carry your reliever inhaler with you as you cannot predict when you may start to develop symptoms. The reliever should be taken immediately when symptoms begin. You must also ensure the inhaler you are using is in date and that you have plenty of medication left. Some inhalers will indicate on the side how much is remaining. For more information on how to get the best from your reliever inhaler, take a look at the information on Asthma UK.
Preventer inhalers are used every day, regardless of whether you are experiencing current symptoms, to reduce the inflammation in your airways. This is to try and prevent symptoms from occurring.
How do they work?
Steroid medication makes up the contents of a preventer inhaler; this medication works to reduce inflammation and swelling in your airways. According to Asthma UK, it’s imperative to use your preventer even when you feel well, as the protective effects of the preventer inhaler build up over time. This means, providing you have used your preventer inhaler consistently, you should start to notice that you do not need your reliever inhaler as often.
Preventer inhalers are often brown, and they all contain a low dose of corticosteroids. This is similar to a substance made naturally by our bodies. They come in the same format as the relievers of an MDI, BAI, and DPI. Which type you are prescribed will depend on your asthma and will be discussed when you put together your asthma treatment plan.
Most people with asthma need a preventer inhaler. It is usually prescribed if:
- Your asthma is not under control – a sign of this could be using your reliever more than three times a week.
- You are very symptomatic and unable to do even light exercise without getting breathless.
- You are having disturbed sleep due to your symptoms.
When you are using your preventer inhaler, you should expect to be less sensitive to things that commonly trigger your asthma such as exercise or allergies, and you may find that having asthma begins to have less of an impact on your life.
Other Treatment Options
While preventer and reliever inhalers are the most common form of asthma treatment, there are some other options which you may be given.
You may be prescribed a combination inhaler. This is where the inhaler combines both relief and preventative inhaler medications. They contain a long-acting reliever medicine and a steroid preventer medicine too. Some of the examples of this would be Seretide, Symbicort or Fostair.
Your GP may prescribe this alternative for many reasons, including poor asthma control, and it’s crucial to discuss this with them. Like all inhalers, you should use your combination inhaler as prescribed and even when you are feeling well. You may also still need a normal reliever inhaler with the combination inhaler. Have a look at Asthma UK for more information on these inhalers.
Tablets and Injections
In more severe cases an inhaler may not be enough. You may be offered different oral medications to help to control your asthma, including:
- Leukotriene Receptor Antagonists (LTRAs) – These are non-steroid oral preventer medications. They are an ‘add on' treatment so should still be taken with your regular inhalers. They help to calm inflammation in your airways, reduce your bodies response to allergens and help with exercise-induced asthma. An example would be Montelukast.
- Theophylline – This is another non-steroidal ‘add on’ treatment. It’s taken orally or sometimes intravenously in an emergency. It works by relaxing the muscles around your airways so they can widen, and air can flow easily. It is not suitable for all people with asthma.
- Steroids – This is an oral version of the inhaler medication, and it’s often used in a short course to treat acute asthma attacks. It can also be taken as a more extended course. This is advised if you have a continuous period where your asthma is not controlled even with maximum doses of your other medications.
For some people with severe asthma who have tried many other options, you may be given injections every few weeks. There are a few different types of these, and they can only be prescribed by a specialist.
Asthma can be a severe lifelong condition, and there is currently no cure. However, there are a wealth of effective treatments available to keep the condition under strict control. This means it can have a very minimal impact on your life. Treatment can be very complex, and it may take time to find a treatment plan that works for you.
If you suffer from asthma it may be a good idea to get a personal alarm. If your symptoms worsen or you feel like you're having an attack, you can simply press your pendant button (around your wrist or neck) and our 24/7 Response Team will be there to help. They'll call an ambulance and your emergency contacts, family, friends and/or neighbours, to inform them of your situation.
The condition also qualifies for VAT Exemption, which means you won't pay any VAT when you purchase an alarm.
Editor's Note: This article was updated on 9th June 2022 to reflect current information.