Asthma is a chronic condition that affects the lungs and often leads to symptoms of wheezing, coughing, breathlessness and a tight chest. Over five million people in the UK live with asthma, with the condition being slightly more common in children than in adults.
Around 4% of people with the condition have what is known as “severe” asthma. Management is more complex for people with severe asthma, and daily asthma treatment is required to avoid the onset of life-threatening asthma attacks. However, for the majority of asthma sufferers, daily life can be made simple through a series of asthma management techniques.
There are several asthma management techniques to familiarise yourself with. Each is important in its own way, and offers different benefits for coping with your condition.
Asthma Action Plan
A personalised asthma action plan is a document where you write down all of the need-to-know information about your condition. You fill it in with your doctor or nurse, making note of the following information:
- Your asthma triggers
- Which symptoms require you to use your reliever inhaler
- How much you need to use your preventer inhaler
- Symptoms that indicate you need medical assistance
- Symptoms that indicate you are having an asthma attack
You should keep this document safe and within easy reach, and – where relevant – tell family members and friends to familiarise themselves with the information as well. According to Asthma UK, you are four times less likely to suffer an asthma attack that requires hospitalisation if you use a written asthma action plan.
Once you have an asthma action plan you should take it to all your asthma reviews and appointments and, if possible, make a few copies so that you can carry one with you at all times.
Asthma triggers are any substances or activities that set off your asthma symptoms. Common triggers include:
- Allergens such as pollen and dust mites
- Cigarette smoke
- Chemical fumes
- Certain medicines such as ibuprofen and aspirin
- Infections that affect the upper airways such as cold and flu
- Foods containing sulphites
- Mould or damp
- Poor weather conditions (cold air, wind, thunderstorms)
- Emotional stress
- Food allergies
It takes time to get to grips with your triggers, which is why it is helpful to keep a record of how, when and where your symptoms come and go. Once you know your triggers you can start to eliminate them from your lifestyle. Some, of course, are unavoidable and for this reason you should always carry your reliever inhaler.
The short-acting reliever inhaler is used to treat symptoms when they flare up. If you start to feel short of breath, or are coughing and wheezing a lot you should use your reliever. This will open up your airways and help you to breathe normally. It should take effect within a couple of minutes.
If you are using your reliever inhaler more than three times a week, it’s likely that you will require a preventer inhaler as well. These inhalers are used every single day (usually twice) and work by soothing the sensitivity of the airways. The beneficial effects of a preventer inhaler build up over time, so you should continue to use it even if you are experiencing no symptoms.
In the case of more severe asthma, other treatments such as long-acting reliever inhalers and steroid tablets may be required.
When it comes to asthma medication, remember the following: ·
- Use your medication exactly as it is prescribed by your doctor – if the recommended dose is not working, visit your doctor so they can re-evaluate your condition; do not change your dose on your own.
- Carry your reliever with you everywhere.
- If you use a preventer inhaler, make sure you use it every day, even if you feel completely healthy.
- Make sure you are using your inhaler correctly. You can check your technique with your doctor or a pharmacist.
If you have asthma, you should be reviewing your condition with your doctor or nurse at least once a year. Take your written asthma action plan with you, and make sure you discuss any changes in symptoms. If your asthma has worsened, you may require new medication or “add-on” treatments such as hay fever tablets. If your asthma has gotten better, you may be able to lower the doses of your medication.
In addition to the asthma management techniques above, there are also some lifestyle changes you can make. If you are a smoker who has asthma, it is strongly recommended that you give up smoking, as this is something that can greatly reduce your risk of symptoms and asthma attacks. Though this can be challenging, there are several stop smoking treatments and techniques that can lend a helping hand. It is also advised that you avoid spending time around other people who smoke.
You may also consider taking up certain activities that build strength, encourage relaxation and assist in breathing difficulties. These include yoga, breathing exercises such as the Buteyko Breathing Technique, and mindfulness. Be aware that these are not recommended as alternative therapies – instead they should be used alongside regular medicated asthma treatments.