Asthma is a chronic condition that impairs the lung’s airways. It can cause wheezing, coughing, and a tight chest. In the UK, one in every twelve adults has asthma.
If you’ve been diagnosed with asthma, your GP or asthma nurse will help you manage it. They may prescribe medication, probably an inhaler, provide information on how to monitor your asthma, and tell you what to do if you have an asthma attack.
Asthma has no cure, but effective treatment can help you control symptoms and live a normal, active life. Even if your symptoms are intermittent, asthma must be treated daily to lower the risk of symptoms and asthma attacks.
What Causes Asthma?
Asthma usually starts in childhood, but adults can also develop the condition. A family history of asthma and allergies put you at higher risk.
Asthma can have allergic or non-allergic triggers. With allergic asthma, allergens like mould, pollen, and pet dander can cause an asthma attack. If you have non-allergic asthma, you may be affected by factors like exercise, stress, illness, and the weather.
Avoiding triggers is an important part of asthma management. Common asthma triggers include colds and viruses, pets, pollen, pollution, house dust mites, or stress.
Asthma Treatment Options
Inhalers are the most common treatment for asthma. These devices let you inhale (breathe in) the medicine. If you have severe asthma, and inhalers alone do not control your symptoms, tablets and other treatments may also be prescribed. The following treatments are available to manage asthma:
Most people with asthma will use a reliever inhaler. You only use these inhalers when you are having symptoms. If you need to use your reliever inhaler more than three times a week, your GP or asthma nurse may need to prescribe a preventer inhaler. Temporary side effects after using a reliever inhaler include shaking or a fast heartbeat.
If you need to use a reliever inhaler often, you’ll probably be prescribed a preventer inhaler. These contain steroids and need to be used every day to reduce inflammation and sensitivity in your airways. Possible side effects include oral thrush, a hoarse voice, and a sore throat. You should tell your GP or asthma nurse if your preventer inhaler is not helping you manage your symptoms.
Most people with asthma use a preventer inhaler every day, and a reliever inhaler when symptoms flare up.
Steroid tablets are mainly used when inhalers are not working to control your symptoms. They can be taken as an immediate treatment when you have an asthma attack or as a chronic treatment to prevent symptoms. The long-term or frequent use of steroid tablets can cause side effects such as weight gain, easy bruising, mood changes, fragile bones (osteoporosis), and high blood pressure.
Occasionally people with severe asthma are given biologic therapy injections. These are administered every few weeks to help control the symptoms.
A procedure called a bronchial thermoplasty is sometimes offered to patients with severe asthma. During this operation, a thin, flexible tube is inserted down your throat and into your lungs. Heat is then applied to the muscles surrounding the airways to prevent them from narrowing and causing asthma symptoms.
Several alternative (complementary) treatments that have been suggested for treating asthma. These include breathing exercises, traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture, air ionisers, chiropractic care, homeopathy, and dietary supplements. There is scant evidence, however, that any of these therapies are effective.
Frequently Asked Questions
Usually, you’ll take two to six puffs of a quick-acting inhaler that will get medication like albuterol, which expands your airways, deep into your lungs. Small children and adults who struggle using inhalers may use a nebulizer instead.
Intermittent asthma comes and goes with occasional asthma flares. Persistent asthma is ongoing, and you will experience symptoms most of the time.
Some people develop work-related asthma. This kind of asthma is triggered by irritants in the workplace, such as certain chemicals. As it is your employer’s responsibility to protect you from hazardous irritants, your employer could substitute the problem product or redeploy you to another role within the company. If your GP suspects that you have occupational asthma, you will probably be referred to a specialist.