Asthma is a chronic inflammation of the airways that can cause a blockage of airflow and squeezing of the air passages of the lung as a result of the contraction of the muscles in the bronchi. (Bronchi are the two air-tubes leading into the lungs.) Although there is no permanent cure for asthma, there are still ways to manage the symptoms to prevent a full flare-up, also known as an asthma attack.
The two main aims of asthma treatment are:
- To relieve current symptoms
- To prevent future symptoms
These two aims are managed using different types of inhalers and lifestyle techniques as detailed below.
Asthma, however episodes can be controlled and managed with medications allowing people to live normal lives. Treatment for asthma can be categorised into short-term and long-term. The short-term medications (salbutamol & terbutaline) provide quick relief from episodes and the long-term medicines (corticosteroids – beclometasone & budesonide) offer a way to control future asthma attacks.
Relief of current symptoms - wheezing, breathlessness and coughing
’Short-term’ asthma inhalers provide quick relief of asthma symptoms (relievers – usually blue inhalers) whereas ‘long-term’ corticosteroid inhalers (preventers – usually brown/purple inhalers) supress the chronic inflammation in the airways.
Salbutamol (Ventolin & Salamol) is a short-acting quick-relief medication that is taken as the first line treatment for asthma. It is generally used in response to symptoms of shortness of breath, wheezing or coughing to provide quick relief. It can also be used in anticipation of symptoms, such as before exercise, to prevent them occurring. Besides salbutamol, your doctor may choose prescribe terbutaline (Bricanyl), which has a similar effect. Salbutamol acts within 5 minutes and can act for up to 6 hours.
Relievers (Ventolin, Salamol Easi-Breathe, and Bricanyl) act quickly to open the airways when they are narrowed and symptoms have started to develop. They can also be used prior to exposure to triggers, such as exercise, to stop symptoms occurring. When wheezing and breathlessness occur, it is important to use your reliever as quickly as possible following your asthma management plan set by your GP or asthma nurse. If your symptoms are no better or worse after 5 – 10 minutes and several doses of your reliever you should call an ambulance immediately.
Prevention of future symptoms
As mentioned above, there is no permanent cure for asthma. Treatments only alleviate the symptoms that lead to an attack. Asthma is usually prevented and treated with inhaled medication. However, most mild asthma symptoms may be controlled by lifestyle changes (for instance, by quitting smoking, etc.), avoiding exposure to allergens and irritants (such as dust and pet dander) and using inhaled corticosteroids. Inhaled corticosteroids are a common type of asthma preventer that is inhaled without swallowing and go directly to your lungs, reducing inflammation.
The main aim of preventers is to keep asthma symptoms under control by reducing the sensitivity of the lining of the airways and reducing any inflammation and mucous production. Examples of preventers include Clenil, Qvar, Seretide, Serevent, Flixotide, Symbicort, and Pulmicort. They normally contain an inhaled steroid and may have other ingredients that work in combination to keep the condition under control when used regularly.
In the long-term treatment of asthma, corticosteroids are the most effective. They act to help reduce the irritation and inflammation of the airways, reducing the chance of symptoms and an asthma attack. Inhaled beclomethasone (Clenil & Qvar) is taken once or twice daily to treat symptoms. It is important that inhaled corticosteroid inhalers (preventers) are taken regularly to allow a continued effect to build up and inflammation of the airways to be effectively suppressed. Budesonide (Pulmicort) is another commonly inhaled corticosteroid.
Preventers, such as Clenil & Qvar, and relievers (Ventolin, Salamol & Bricanyl) are often combined in asthma treatment for more effective treatment. Brown preventers are used regularly once or twice daily (as directed by your prescriber) and blue reliever inhalers are used when required to treat sudden onset symptoms.
Along with inhaled corticosteroids, budesonide/formoterol (Symbicort) is another way to relieve asthma symptoms. Formoterol (a long-acting version of salbutamol) works for up to 12 hours is combined with budesonide (a corticosteroid) to both keep the airways open and reduce irritation and inflammation.
Asthma Treatment Information
Asthma should always be diagnosed by your doctor and any treatments should be used under their instruction. You should never self-diagnose asthma or use any inhalers that are not currently prescribed by your doctor. It is important to see your GP at least once a year for an asthma check-up to ensure your symptoms and lung function are stable.
The aim of asthma treatment is to keep your symptoms well controlled subsequently reducing the number of times you need to use your blue reliever inhaler. If you are finding that you are using your reliever inhaler daily or more frequently, this is a good indicator that your asthma is not as well controlled as it could be. In this case, you should see your GP for advice on optimising your asthma treatment.
Asthma medicines are usually delivered through metered-dose inhalers, asthma spacers or nebulisers. You need to learn the correct use of your delivery device(s) from your doctor so that you get the correct dose of medicines. For advice on proper inhaler use, please contact us or visit www.asthma.org.uk. It is important to use your inhalers as instructed by your GP, asthma nurse or pharmacist to manage your asthma effectively with minimal impact on your lifestyle.
There are can be some side effects with asthma medication, these include headaches, muscle cramps, tremors, anxiety and dry mouth. These normally indicate that you are using your inhaler too much or too often. If you experience side effects from your asthma inhalers you should discuss them with your GP.
After using brown preventer (steroid) inhalers, if you do not rinse your mouth or brush your teeth after taking the medication, there may be increased chances of oral candidiasis (oral thrush). You may also experience hoarseness, nasal congestion, headaches, rashes, dizziness and visual changes.