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  • What is Asthma and what causes it?

    Asthma is a chronic condition that affects the lungs. Within the lungs are small tubes called bronchi, which carry air to and from the lungs. If you suffer from asthma, these tubes will be inflamed and more sensitive than normal.
    Symptoms will occur when a sufferer comes into contact with an asthma trigger. This is something that will irritate the lungs. This irritant will cause the airways to narrow and the surrounding muscles to tighten, leading to an increase in the production of sticky mucus (phlegm).
    Unfortunately, asthma is a condition that cannot be cured. However, with the appropriate treatment and technique it can be successfully managed.
  • What are the symptoms of Asthma?

    The most common symptoms associated with asthma are:
    • Shortness of breath.
    • Wheezing.
    • Coughing.
    • Tightness in the chest, which may feel as though a band is being tightened around the chest.
    Asthma symptoms tend to be worse early morning and at night, particularly if the condition is not well managed. These symptoms can also be exacerbated in response to a trigger, such as exposure to allergens or exercise.
  • What triggers can cause Asthma to worsen?

    Once a sufferer has identified their asthma triggers, they will be able to control their condition more effectively by trying to avoid them. Asthma has a wide range of triggers, which include:
    • Allergens - Such as animal fur, pollen, dust mites or feathers.
    • Airborne irritants - Such as chemical fumes, pollution and cigarette smoke.
    • Respiratory tract infections - Especially infections of the upper airways like colds and flu.
    • Certain Medicines - In particular, the group of painkillers known as Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs). This group includes; Aspirin, Ibuprofen, Naproxen and Diclofenac. Also, a group of medicines called Beta-Blockers, which are sometimes prescribed to treat heart disease and high blood pressure.
    • Strong emotions - Such as stress or laughter.
    • Weather Conditions - Such as sudden changes in temperature, windy conditions, cold air, hot and humid conditions.
    • Indoor conditions - Such as mould, damp, dust mites and indoor chemicals found in carpets and flooring materials.
    • Food allergies - Such as nuts, gluten and other food items.
    • Foods containing sulphites - These substances naturally occur in certain foods and drinks, such as processed or pre-cooked meals, concentrated fruit juice and jams.
    • Exercise - Moderate to strenuous exercise is a known trigger.
  • What medication can I take to treat Asthma?

    There is currently no cure for asthma, however, there are a number of treatments that can help successfully manage the condition. These treatments are based on two important factors, which are; preventing attacks and relieving symptoms.
    For most people, the treatment regime will commonly involve the daily use of medication, usually in the form of an inhaler. Certain regimes will only require the occasional use of medication, again usually by way of inhalers. It is also imperative to identify and avoid known asthma triggers.
    An asthma sufferer will usually have a personalised action plan that has been agreed with their doctor or asthma nurse. This will include information about what medicines are needed, how to recognise when symptoms are becoming worse and what steps to take in such an event.
  • What are Reliver Inhalers?

    Reliever inhalers should be provided to everyone with asthma. They are typically blue and used to quickly relieve asthma symptoms.

    Reliever inhalers usually contain a short-acting Beta2-Agonist, which works to relax the muscles that surround the narrowed airways. This action allows the airways to dilate, which allows the sufferer to breathe with more ease. However, reliever inhalers do not actively work to reduce any inflammation in the airways. This means that they do not improve the condition in the long-term.

    Reliever inhalers are only intended for the short-term relief of the associated symptoms.

    Examples of reliever medicines include; Salbutamol and Terbutaline. These medicines are well tolerated and generally offer few side-effects unless abused or overused. If the asthma is well controlled then reliever inhalers should rarely need to be used.

    Anyone needing to use a reliever inhaler more than three times a week should have their asthma treatment reviewed


  • What are Brown Inhalers or Preventers?

    Preventer inhalers are normally brown, red or orange. They are designed to work over time to help reduce the amount of inflammation in the airways. This action also helps to reduce the risk of an asthma attack occurring.

    They are intended for indefinite, regular use and are typically used twice daily. A once daily dose is also used but this is less common.

    Preventer inhalers need to be taken for some time before a sufferer starts to notice the full benefit. Initially, it may be necessary to occasionally use a reliever inhaler in conjunction with the preventer. However, your asthma treatment should be reviewed if you find the need to use them too frequently.

    Preventer inhalers commonly contain an inhaled corticosteroid, such as Beclomethasone, Budesonide, Ciclesonide, Fluticasone or Mometasone.

    Preventer treatment should be used regularly, providing your asthma symptoms are anything more than occasional. If a sufferer is finding the need to use a reliever inhaler more than twice a week then they should also be using a preventer.

    Some inhaled corticosteroids can sometimes cause mild fungal infections (oral thrush) of the mouth and throat. This is why it is recommended to rinse the mouth thoroughly after administering a dose. Using a spacer device will also help reduce the risk of developing this type of infection. Further information on side-effects can be found below. Smoking can reduce the effectiveness of preventer inhalers.

  • What are the side effects of Inhalers?

    Reliever medications are safe, effective and carry little in way of side-effects. This is provided they are not abused and used too often.

    The most common side-effects are tremors of the hand, headaches and muscle cramps. It should be noted that these side-effects generally only occur with high doses of reliever medication. Also, the effects usually subside after just a few minutes.

    Normal doses of preventer medication usually does not produce many side-effects. Although, at higher doses, a range of side-effects can occur, especially with long-term use. The main side-effect being a fungal infection of the mouth or throat, this is sometimes referred to as oral candidiasis or oral thrush. This will likely produce a hoarse voice and sore throat. Using a spacer device will help prevent this side-effect. Also, cleaning your teeth and rinsing your mouth after each use will reduce the risk of developing oral candidiasis.

    A doctor or asthma nurse can help advise ways to balance controlling your asthma with minimising the potential side-effects.

  • How long does it take for the Inhalers to work?

    Reliever inhalers usually begin to work within a few minutes after inhalation. The effects tend to last for 3-5 hours.

    Preventer inhalers need to be used regularly in order to gain any effect. If you are suffering an asthma attack, preventer inhalers will not provide any immediate relief. During an attack, you should use a reliever inhaler to ease the symptoms.

    Certain inhalers combine both the reliever and preventer into one device, for example; Symbicort. This combination device can be used as a reliever treatment, though it should only be used in this fashion if a doctor has authorised its use as a rescue treatment.

  • Do I need to see a Doctor before I can get Asthma treatments?

    If you have never been diagnosed with asthma then you would need to see your doctor before treatment could be provided. This is so they can assess your condition and perform the necessary breathing tests. They will likely ask whether there are any allergic conditions present like eczema or hayfever as these symptoms can sometimes run side by side with asthma.

    As many asthma symptoms are similar to other conditions, it is important to seek professional help in order to receive an informed diagnosis.

    Once you have been diagnosed with asthma and after your condition is well managed, you can obtain repeat prescriptions online from us or from your local GP surgery. It is important to have your condition checked regularly and your treatment altered if your condition changes.

  • What is the most common age group to suffer from Asthma?

    Approximately 5.4 million people are currently receiving treatment for asthma in The UK. This works out to be one in every twelve adults and one in every eleven children.

    Asthma in adults tends to be more common amongst women.

    For most sufferers, asthma is a long-term condition, especially if the condition first develops in adulthood.

    Asthma symptoms can be controlled and reversed with the appropriate treatment. However, some sufferers can develop a permanent narrowing of the airways, which may incur more persistent symptoms and problems.

    Many children diagnosed with asthma can find that their symptoms improve or even disappear during adolescence. Although, in some cases the condition can recur later in life. Children who suffer from moderate to severe asthma are more likely to find their condition persisting into adulthood.

    It is not fully understood why certain people develop asthma, although having a family history of it is a known factor that can increase the likelihood of developing the condition. Asthma can develop at any age, including young children and the elderly.

  • Is there a cure for Asthma?

    There is currently no cure for asthma. However, the condition can be safely and effectively managed through widely available treatments.

    It is important to consult with a doctor or asthma nurse to ensure the right treatment and techniques are being used. By adopting good habits and taking the medication as directed, the full benefits can be felt.

  • What is an Asthma attack?

    Also known as acute asthma exacerbation, an asthma attack is when asthma symptoms become significantly worse. They often develop slowly, sometimes taking two or more days until they become serious. In contrast to this, some sufferers can experience sudden, severe and unexpected attacks.
    During any kind of asthma at tack, it is important to take swift, appropriate action.
    The signs of a severe asthma attack can include:
    • Your reliever inhaler is less effective at relieving asthma symptoms.
    • Constant wheezing, coughing and tightness of chest.
    • Inability to eat, sleep or speak due to breathlessness.
    • Rapid breathing.
    • Rapid heartbeat.
    • Feeling exhausted, drowsy or dizzy.
    • Your lips and or fingers turn blue. This is known as Cyanosis.
  • What do I do if I get an Asthma attack?

    For the majority of cases it is recommended to:
    1.  Inhale 1-2 puffs from your reliever inhaler.
    2.  Sit down and attempt to take slow, steady breaths.
    3.  If there is no improvement, take an additional 2 puffs from your reliever inhaler. The dose is 1 puff at a time, leaving a gap of two minutes between puffs. You can take up to 10 puffs. Using a spacer device can make this process easier.
    4.  If after following the steps above there is still no improvement, or at any time if you are worried, call 999.
    5.  If an ambulance does not arrive within ten minutes then it is recommended to repeat step 3.
    If your symptoms improve and there is no need to call 999, you will still need to visit a doctor or asthma nurse within twenty-four hours. If hospital admission is required, you will usually be administered a combination of oxygen, reliever and preventer medication, which will help bring your asthma under control.
    Following an asthma attack, your personal asthma action plan will need to be reviewed. This will be to identify the reasons for the attack so that future occurrences can be minimised or prevented.
  • Is Asthma a serious condition?

    Asthma, if not properly controlled, can be a serious condition.
    On average, three people die each year because of an asthma attack. Sadly, research has proven that two-thirds of asthma-related deaths are preventable. However, it is a reassuring that the majority of asthma suffers, who are receiving the correct treatment and using the correct technique, manage their condition effectively, allowing them to live a normal, productive life.
  • Asthma and pregnancy

    If you discover you are pregnant, it is important to visit your doctor or asthma nurse as soon as possible. This will provide an opportunity to review your asthma medication and to update your written asthma action plan if required. It will also be necessary to inform your midwife of your asthma so that it can be noted down in your birth plan.
    During pregnancy, it is important for both you and your baby that your asthma is well managed. You can help minimise the risk of asthma symptoms during pregnancy by:
    • Using your asthma medication as prescribed, even if you are not suffering from any symptoms.
    • Reviewing your asthma with your doctor or asthma nurse to ensure you are getting the most out of your medication. Ask your doctor, pharmacist or asthma nurse to review your inhaler technique.
    • Smoking while pregnant is linked to an increased likelihood of the baby being born with breathing problems, such as asthma. It also increases the risk of miscarriage and premature labour. If a baby is born prematurely, their lungs will not have developed fully. This will carry an increased risk of childhood wheezing. It is recommended to ask friends and family to avoid smoking around you, as their second-hand smoke could exacerbate your asthma symptoms, which could even lead to an asthma attack.
    • Asthma medicines are generally considered safe for use during pregnancy. These include relievers, preventers and combined reliever inhalers such as Theophylline; and steroid (prednisolone) tablets. There is potentially more risk to you and your baby by not taking your asthma medication as prescribed.
  • Asthma and breastfeeding

    It is considered safe to breastfeed whilst taking asthma medication as only trace amounts of the medicine will pass into the breast milk. These amounts pose no risk to your baby. Also, medicines prescribed for asthma do not affect the body's ability to produce breast milk.

    Studies have shown that breastfeeding can help lower the risk of your baby developing asthma. If however, breastfeeding is not a suitable option, this does not mean your baby will develop the condition. Speak to your midwife or health adviser about which formula is the most suitable for you.

Authored By:

A photo of Dr Donald Grant

Dr Donald Grant

MB ChB DRCOG MRCGP Dip.orth.med

Published on: 29-05-2019

Last modified on: 29-05-2019

Dr Don Grant is a GP with over 30 years experience and is the Clinical Advisor at The Independent Pharmacy

Reviewed By:

A photo of  Leanne Sinclair

Leanne Sinclair


Reviewed on: 29-05-2019

Next review date: 29-05-2021

Leanne is a clinical pharmacist with years of experience working in pharmacy.

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