Asthma is a long term respiratory condition that may cause coughing, wheezing, breathlessness and chest tightness. These symptoms can vary depending on the person. This condition can now be well controlled most of the time, as long as the person is aware of the symptoms and the treatments available. Some, on the other hand, may have a more severe problem that will require more regular monitoring.
At certain times the symptoms may suddenly become worse. This episode is known as an ‘asthma attack’ or ‘exacerbation’ by medical professionals. A severe attack can be life threatening if left untreated, and in some case you may need to seek medical advice from a GP or hospital. If you think you may be developing symptoms of asthma, ensure you speak to your doctor as soon as possible for a diagnosis. In the UK alone, there are around 5 million people suffering from the condition and receiving treatment for it, which is equivalent to around one in 11 adults and one in 10 children. Research also shows that the problem is more common in women than in men.
Fortunately, there are prescription treatment available to treat the symptoms of an asthma attack. Known as inhalers, these treatment can be provided after a quick medical consultation with Meds4All. Once the doctor has confirmed that you are suitable for the treatment, it can be sent to you the same or next day so you conveniently have an effective solution in the case of a sudden attack.
How does an asthma attack occur?
An asthma attack often develops over a period of a few days before becoming more serious, although some attacks come on unexpectedly e.g. during sports or moments of anxiety. It is essential to recognise the early onset of an attack, and to take the appropriate action required when it occurs. During such an attack, it would be advisable to contact your GP or clinic as soon as possible, or to find out the best course of treatment using your asthma action plan. Some people recognise the arrival of asthma symptoms and are able to utilise their reliever inhaler (usually blue in colour).
What causes asthma?
Medically, asthma results from inflammation of the small tubes (bronchi) in the lungs, which are necessary for the flow of air in and out of the body. This condition causes the bronchi to become inflamed, causing a higher level of sensitivity than usual. Coming into contact with something that is irritating to the lungs (usually known as a trigger) causes the airways in the bronchi to be narrowed, with the muscles around them tightening and an increase in mucus (phlegm) production. These are all responses that occur as the body’s way of trying to fight off what it believes are foreign bodies e.g. bacteria and viruses.
Common triggers include:
- smoke (from fires or cigarettes)
- animal fur
- dust mites
- viral infections
The inhalation of certain chemicals or odours can also trigger an asthmatic reaction in the body. It is not fully understood why people develop asthma, although it is considered to be a combination of various factors including acquired genetic traits. Also, environmental factors can play a role in the prevalence of asthma due to air pollution, hygiene standards and even chlorine in swimming pools. There isn’t enough evidence to ascertain what exactly causes this condition, but the combination of environmental irritants is usually said to make it worse.
What can trigger this condition?
The triggers are what cause the symptoms of an ‘asthma attack’. Asthma symptoms can be triggered by a variety of sources such as:
- Airborne irritants – this includes chemical fumes, cigarette smoke and general pollution in the atmosphere
- Medication – non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication (painkillers) including aspirin and ibuprofen can be triggers, alongside beta blockers given to those with high blood pressure
- Allergens – pollen, dirt, dust mites, fur or feathers
- Weather conditions – a sudden temperature change, humidity, windy days and even cold air
- Exercise – activities that increase the heart rate
- Food allergy- allergies to seafood, nuts etc.
These are usually the main triggers involved in causing asthmatic symptoms, although this varies depending on the person. By knowing what your triggers are, you will be able to control them and avoid sudden asthma attacks.
What treatments are available?
Currently there is no cure for asthma, but it can be managed with effective treatments. The main aim of the treatments is to relieve symptoms and to help prevent further attacks. To achieve this, most asthma sufferers have a daily routine of using an inhaler.
This is the most common treatment for asthma sufferers. Inhalers work by delivering the medication directly to the lungs as you breathe, meaning the effect is felt almost immediately. Inhalers all work in slightly different ways, and you should get advice on how to correctly use your inhaler. Some come in the form of pressurised canisters, which you press while breathing in, causing medicated vapour to pass directly into the lungs. Other inhalers may come in dry powder form, wherein a capsule is punctured when the inhaler is ‘primed’. This then needs to be inhaled quickly to have the required effect.
Common asthma symptoms
The symptoms associated with asthma can range from being mild to severe, and some people with the condition will only experience symptoms occasionally. The main associated symptoms include:
- Shortness of breath
- Wheezing when breathing
- Tightening of the chest
- Extreme coughing
These symptoms may often get worse during the night and early morning, especially if the condition is not controlled properly. They may also develop when exposure to certain triggers occurs. If you think you or your child may have asthma, it is advisable to speak to a doctor and get tested as soon as possible. This could help prevent the condition becoming worse or difficult to control.