More than 5.4 million people in the UK suffer from asthma – that’s one in 12 adults and one in 11 children.
It is a common illness which can develop at any age but a condition that can be easily controlled with the right diagnosis and treatment.
Top athletes who have asthma, such as Paula Radcliffe and Paul Scholes, show that it’s possible to participate in sport if you receive the right treatment for the condition.
Asthma is an inflammation of the airways, the tubes that carry air in and out of the body.
During an asthma attack, the airways tighten and narrow and there is an increased production of mucus (or phlegm).
This results in wheezing, breathlessness and tightening of the chest.
The cause of asthma is not very well understood and it can develop at any stage of life.
It is thought to be genetic – children whose parents have asthma are more likely to develop it.
A number of factors may trigger an asthma attack; for instance, proximity to house dust mites, animal fur, pollen, tobacco smoke, exercise and cold air or having a chest infection.
Other triggers are situational. For example, some people find their symptoms are worse if they work in an environment with dust and fumes.
With the right treatment, most people can live an unrestricted and normal life with asthma.
Your doctor or nurse will help you draw up a personal asthma action plan during an initial assessment for asthma.
This will contain information about your prescribed medicines and the steps you should take in the event of an attack.
Asthma medicine is administered through inhalers which deliver the drug directly to the lungs.
There are two types of inhalers: reliever inhalers, which are used to relieve the symptoms of asthma quickly in the event of an asthma attack; and preventer inhalers, which are used to try and reduce the probability of asthma attacks occurring in the first place over time.
If these types of inhalers are not working, then you may be prescribed a long-acting reliever inhaler, which works in the same way as a relief inhaler but over a longer period of time.
If your asthma is not controlled by inhaled medicine, you may be prescribed tablets to target the causes of the mucus build-up.
You may also be given steroids which target the causes of the attacks within the immune system and this should be accompanied by a consultation with a respiratory specialist.
If you have an asthma attack, you should take the following steps:
· Take one to two puffs of your reliever inhaler (usually blue), immediately.
· Sit down and try to take slow, steady breaths.
· If you do not start to feel better, take two puffs of your reliever inhaler every two minutes. You can take up to 10 puffs.
· If your symptoms aren’t improving after taking your inhaler as above, or if you are worried at any time, call 999.
· If an ambulance does not arrive within 10 minutes and you are still feeling unwell, repeat the third step until help arrives.
· Make an appointment with your doctor or asthma nurse for an asthma review within 48 hours of your attack.
· You will also need another review within one or two weeks to assess your revised asthma treatment and to ensure your asthma is well controlled.
· Don’t ignore worsening symptoms – if you find that you are using your reliever inhaler more, see your GP for a review of your treatment.
Visit nhs.co.uk or asthma.org.uk for more.