Asthma is a long-term medical condition which affects the tubes, medically known as the respiratory tract, which carry air to and from your lungs. Asthma is one of the most common conditions in the United Kingdom.
According to Asthma UK, 5.4 million people are currently receiving treatment for the condition. Of those affected, 4.3 million cases are adults and 1.1 million are children. These figures mean that asthma affects one in every 11 people, and one in five households across the country.
Every 10 seconds somebody is having a potentially life-threatening asthma attack in the UK. Each day, the lives of three families are devastated by the death of a loved one to an asthma attack.” – Asthma UK.
The most recent data released regarding deaths caused by asthma attacks show that 1468 people died from the condition in 2015. These statistics can be quite frightening, but research has shown that two thirds of asthma-related deaths are preventable with the right treatment and understanding.
You may have seen our in-depth guide to the medical conditions which affect older people. Today’s article focuses on asthma, as we look at the symptoms, treatments and possible causes of the condition.
What is Asthma?
As we have previously mentioned, asthma is a common condition affecting the respiratory tract, the tubes that transport air to and from the lungs. It affects around one in 12 adults and one in 11 children, and is more common in men than women.
In sufferers of asthma, the respiratory tract is more sensitive, so if something irritates it then its reaction can be more severe than usual. This can affect the airways by causing:
- Inflammation of the airways.
- A build-up of phlegm or mucus.
- A tightening of the muscles around the airways.
All of these narrow the space through which air can flow, which in-turn causes many of the core symptoms of the condition.
These reactions can occur at random, or it can occur in response to an ‘asthma trigger’. Allergens like pollen and fur; chest infections; strenuous exercise; and irritants like tobacco smoke can all function as asthma triggers.
Around 5% of people with the condition are affected by ‘severe asthma’. People with severe asthma have symptoms which are much harder to control, due to the fact that they don’t improve with the usual medication provided.
Your asthma can change to become severe over time, or it can be triggered more suddenly by certain factors such as pneumonia or hormonal changes.
The symptoms of asthma can range from mild to more serious, and not everybody will experience all of the symptoms out there. The most common symptoms are:
- Wheezing – A whistling sound whilst you’re breathing.
- A tight chest.
These symptoms are commonly triggered due to your inflamed airways reacting to certain ‘triggers’. Asthma UK, have split the triggers into two separate categories:
- Allergic Asthma – When your symptoms are triggered by an allergic reaction to allergens such as pollen, pets and dust.
- Non-allergic Asthma – When your symptoms are caused by an irritant you breath in, such as cigarette smoke and exhausts fumes.
Also triggers for your symptoms include exercise, cold weather and the flu.
Sometimes your symptoms can become worse for a short period of time, which is commonly known as an asthma attack. These attacks can happen suddenly or gradually over a few days. Signs to look out for include:
- Your wheezing, coughing and/or chest tightness becoming more severe and constant.
- Being out of breath when trying to eat, sleep or speak.
- Faster breathing.
- A rapid heartbeat.
- Blue lips or fingers.
What to do if you suffer an asthma attack
As we already know, every 10 seconds somebody has a potentially life-threatening asthma attack. Research has shown that with the correct management and care, you can take control of your symptoms and help reduce the risk.
If you think you’re having an asthma attack you need to follow these steps, suggested by the NHS:
- Sit down and take slow, steady breaths. You need to make sure that you’re sat-up straight and that you try to remain as calm as possible. Panicking will only make things worse.
- Take one puff of your reliever inhaler (blue) every 30-60 seconds – up to a maximum of 10 puffs.
- Call 999 immediately if you don’t have your inhaler with you, if you feel worse despite using your inhaler, if you don’t feel any better after 10 puffs, or if you’re worried at any point.
If you’re symptoms do improve, and you don’t require hospital treatment, it is still advised that you make an appointment with your GP within 24 hours.
Should you go to hospital, you will need to see your GP within 48 hours of being discharged. One in six people treated in hospital for an asthma attack need hospital care again within two weeks, so it’s very important that you discuss your condition.
Currently there is no cure for asthma, though some people (mainly children) can simply grow out of the condition. For everyone else, there are a range of effective treatments that help alleviate symptoms.
The most common form of asthma treatment if for those affected to use an inhaler. The NHS define this as being: “A small device that delivers a spray or powder medicine to your breathing tubes as you breathe in.”
There are two types of inhalers that most asthma sufferers are prescribed with:
- Reliever Inhaler – These are used when needed to quickly relieve asthma symptoms for a short period of time. These are commonly blue and typically for around 15 minutes after each use.
- Preventer Inhaler – These are used every day to reduce the inflammation in your breathing tubes. This helps to prevent symptoms from occurring. These are commonly brown and should be used twice a day.
Some patients may be prescribed a ‘combination inhaler’. This includes a combination of a long-acting reliever, to relieve on-going symptoms, and a corticosteroid preventer to help prevent inflammation in your airways.
The idea behind the inhalers is that they place you in charge of your symptoms. By using your inhaler correctly, you can manage your condition and reduce the chances of an attack. Taking your inhaler correctly will help with everyday tasks, such as walking up and down the stairs.
Your doctor or nurse will be able to show you the correct way to use your inhaler. You need to be sure that you are using the right technique for the device to actually work.
If your inhalers aren’t helping with your condition, there are some tablets available from your GP. The most common tablets used to help treat asthma include:
- Leukotriene Receptor Antagonists – These are taken once a day to help stop your airways from becoming inflamed. These tablets are also available in powders and syrup form.
- Theophyllines – These are taken twice a day to help widen your airways.
- Steroids – These can be used as an immediate, short-term treatment if you have occasional severe asthma attack. They can also be used as a long-term treatment if your other medications don’t control your symptoms.
Living with asthma
With the correct treatment and management, most people affected by asthma can live normal lives. The most important factor is to keep your symptoms under control, by ensuring that you don’t cause any unnecessary reactions in your airways.
Anybody with asthma needs to make sure that they are taking their medication correctly. It’s important to work closely with your GP or nurse, to help make sure you’re using your inhaler properly and that you’re not taking any other medication which may put you at risk. For example, some aspirin and ibuprofen may not be suitable for asthma sufferers.
Once diagnosed it is vital that you stop smoking immediately. Doing so will significantly reduce the severity and frequency of your symptoms, as you’re removing a possible reaction trigger from your daily life.
Taking part in physical activity may be taboo for asthma sufferers, but if you’re managing your condition properly you shouldn’t have any problems. Taking part in exercise is good for your condition. Many famous sport stars such as David Beckham and Bradley Wiggins have asthma for example.
By taking part in physical activity you are ensuring that your lungs continue to improve, giving you more stamina in the process. A healthy fitness regime also reduces the chances of a cold or cough, due to a boost to your immune system.
If you’re a little concerned about taking part, or if you’re asthma has been playing-up recently, it may be best to stick to moderate intensity aerobic activities such as swimming, walking, yoga or team sports which allow you to take a rest in-between bursts of movement.
Before taking part, you should also:
- Ensure that you have your inhaler with you.
- Ensure that the people you are exercising / playing with know that you have asthma.
- Ensure that you warm-up and cool down thoroughly.
If at any point you have any of your symptoms, you should stop, take your inhaler and wait until you feel better before re-joining your activity.
Another way to help keep your asthma under control is by making sure that you’re at a healthy weight. Obesity can cause you to become out of breath easier due to the amount of weight on your chest and lungs.
Asthma UK have already found that patients who have lost weight have also seen their symptoms improve, with the need for treatment also reduced. Of course, losing weight and having a healthy lifestyle can also help to reduce the risk of other conditions such as heart disease and diabetes.
Having asthma qualifies you for VAT Exemption when you order a personal alarm system from Lifeline24. HMRC state that a product which has been “designed or adapted for a disability” qualifies for VAT exemption.
For a person to qualify they must meet certain criteria set by HMRC. These criteria state that the customer must have a long-term illness, a terminal illness or a disability to qualify.
Staying safe at home
A personal alarm can help protect people if they suffer from medical conditions such as asthma. If one of our alarm users feels unwell, or suffers a fall, he or she can press their pendant button and help will be arranged immediately.
For more information on purchasing one of our life-saving personal alarms, please speak to one of our friendly advisors on 0800 999 0400. Alternatively, complete our contact us form and we will get back to you as soon as possible.