Asthma in Action

Around 5.4 million people In the UK are currently diagnosed with asthma. About 8% of the population or one in every 12 adults and one in every 11 children. In this blog we will try and explain what asthma is and how it can be managed. Asthma can’t be cured, but its symptoms can be controlled.

What is Asthma?

Asthma is a condition in which your airways narrow due to swelling and produce extra mucus, causing trigger coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath.

It’s a long-term (chronic) disease of the lungs, so it’s posh name would be “chronic respiratory disease“.

Most people have specific triggers that set off their asthma. For some asthma is a minor nuisance. For other people it can be a major problem that get in the way of daily activities and may lead to life-threatening asthma attacks.

What are Asthma Triggers?

Asthma sufferers have sensitive airways that react to a trigger. When they encounter a trigger, the airways react in three ways:

  1. The muscles around the walls of the airways tighten so that the airways become narrower.
  2. The lining of the airways becomes inflamed and starts to swell.
  3. Sticky mucus can sometimes build up, which can narrow the airways even more.

These reactions in the airways make it difficult to breathe and can lead to an asthma attack. 

Examples of Asthma Triggers

  • Heavy exercise or physical exertion
  • Cold, damp, or dusty/smoky environments
  • Stress or anxiety, especially for prolonged periods
  • Airborne substances, such as pollen, dust mites, mould spores, pet hairs
  • Respiratory infections, such as the common cold

What is the best thing to do when having an asthma attack?

  1. Sit upright
  2. Get away from the trigger 
  3. Stay calm 
  4. Use your inhaler
  5. Take long, deep breaths. This helps to slow down your breathing and prevent hyperventilation 
  6. Seek emergency medical help

The length of an asthma attack can vary, depending on what caused it and how long the airways have been inflamed. Mild episodes may last only a few minutes, more severe ones can last from hours. Mild attacks can resolve spontaneously or may require quick-acting inhaler.

How to manage asthma?

Some asthma triggers are avoidable, such as cigarette smoke. But it’s impossible to completely avoid others like pollen, pollution and cold weather.

However, there are several steps you can take to cut your risk of asthma triggers causing an asthma attack:

  1. Use a preventer inhaler regularly – A preventer inhaler works away in the background to help inflammation and sensitivity in your airways. Taking it every day means there’s less chance of a reaction if you come into contact with any triggers. 
  2. Write an Asthma action plan with a GP or Nurse – You can download an asthma action plan here. This will help you identify your triggers and know what to do during an attack.
  3. Go to your Asthma review each year – An ‘asthma review’ gives you and your GP or asthma nurse a chance to make sure your written asthma action plan is up to date.
  4. Check your doses – Make sure your medicine is at the right doses
  5. Check your inhaler technique – A change of inhaler technique could help you manage your asthma better

Asthma First Aid

Inhalers are one of the most common treatments for asthma and have several variants. It is important to remember that blue inhalers (reliever inhalers) are the most appropriate treatment for asthma attacks when suffered.

  1. Ask the patient to breathe slowly and deeply, helping them to stop hyperventilating
  2. Ask them to use their reliever inhaler
  3. Help the patient to sit in a comfortable position
  4. If their condition worsens, help them to take 1 puff of the relief inhaler (blue) every 30-60 seconds until they have had 10 puffs.
  5. Call 999 if the patient worsens or becomes weaker
  6. If you are waiting for the ambulance more than 15 minutes, help them to take 1 puff of the relief inhaler (blue) every 30-60 seconds until they have had 10 puffs.

This asthma attack information is not for people on a SMART or MART regime, who will have their own action plan.

For an explanation on how to use an inhaler in more detail in an emergency situation, you can refer to our video on the subject.