Asthma

Routine annual asthma checks are performed by the nurses. It is important to monitor asthma control regularly as poorly controlled asthma can cause severe health problems.

What is asthma?

Asthma is a common condition of the airways. Different triggers (e.g. infections, allergies, exercise) can cause narrowing of the airways. It presents with wheeze, cough, chest tightness and shortness of breath. It cannot be cured but with treatment symptoms can usually be well controlled.

Why do people get asthma?

Asthma is caused by inflammation in the airways. What starts the inflammatory process is not always clear. Often asthma starts in childhood and there may be a family history, but asthma could start at any age. At least 1 in 10 children and 1 in 20 adults have asthma.

However, we know that smoking, exercise, allergies, fumes and even emotions can make asthma worse. Dietary factors do not appear to play a major role in the control of asthma.

How is asthma diagnosed?

To make the correct diagnosis is very important but is not always straightforward.

Occasionally it is possible to make the diagnosis based on the presence of the typical symptoms. However sometimes further breathing tests including the use of a peak-flow meter to record a variation of the airflow is helpful. In some cases a further breathing test called spirometry can be necessary.

How is asthma treated?

For most people with treatment their asthma will not interfere with their normal activities of life and they will be able to exercise without problems. The main treatment is an inhaler. There are different types and the treatment needs to be tailored to everyone’s need.

The 2 main types of inhalers are:

Reliever:

These inhalers are taken as needed. They work almost immediately and will relieve the symptoms within minutes.
For some people this may be the only required treatment. If they have to be used very frequently this may indicate that
the asthma may require treatment with a preventer inhaler to improve the asthma control.

Preventer:

These inhalers are taken regularly and should prevent asthma symptoms. There are 2 main types:

Steroid inhalers reduce the inflammation of the airways – the mechanism at the heart of asthma. Their use is very safe and should not cause any health problems. They need to be taken regularly and should form the mainstay of most asthma treatments. However, they are not suited for the treatment of an acute problem.

Long acting bronchodilators are sometimes used in combination with a steroid inhaler. These medicines act similarly to a reliever but their action lasts for approximately 12 hours.

Occasionally people require additional treatment with tablets but overall this is not very common.

Does asthma go away?

There is no cure for asthma but approximately 50% of children with asthma will ‘grow out of it’ by the time they are adults.

For some adults their symptoms can be quite seasonal and may be worse due to cold air in winter or high pollen count in summer, which means that for the rest of the year they may not need any treatment.

For further information on asthma please visit the Asthma UK website.