Asthma - what you need to know

Asthma affects nearly five and a half million people in the UK, with one in 11 children affected.

Asthma is a common but unpredictable condition that affects the airways - the tubes which lead from your nose and mouth into your lungs. In asthma, they become inflamed and constricted and the result is that sufferers find it hard to push the air out of their lungs. This causes shortness of breath, wheezing, and can lead to a life-threatening asthma attack.

They might also take a preventative inhaler – a daily or twice daily steroid spray which  enables you to breathe the medicine in through your mouth, directly into your 
lungs, and works over time to help prevent asthma symptoms by reducing sensitivity, swelling and inflammation in the airways.

The symptoms of an asthma attack include:

  • wheezing
  • a tight chest
  • difficulty breathing

If asthma is very bad it can lead to hospitalisation. Patients might be administered oxygen or steroids, or in extreme cases adrenalin, which will aid breathing by 
relaxing the muscles in the airways.

During an asthma attack:

  • the lining of the airways becomes inflamed
  • fluid builds up in the airways
  • the muscles around the bronchioles contract, which constricts the airways 
     

What triggers Asthma?

There are many different triggers for asthma. For most sufferers, it is activated by one or more of the following:

  • Cold or flu
  • Food
  • Pollution
  • Smoking or second-hand smoke
  • Alcohol
  • Emotions
  • Female hormones​
  • Mould and fungi
  • Recreational drugs
  • Stress and anxiety
  • Animals and pets
  • Exercise
  • House dust mites
  • Pollen
  • Sex
  • Weather

What are the symptoms of an Asthma attack?

Warning signs include:

  • The sufferer’s reliever inhaler isn’t helping.
  • Their symptoms are getting worse - cough, breathlessness, wheeze or tight chest
  • They’re too breathless or it’s difficult to speak, eat or sleep
  • Their breathing is getting faster and they feel like they can't breathe in properly

What you should do if someone is having an Asthma attack:

  • Sit them up straight – don’t let them lie down. Try to keep calm.
  • Get the person to take one puff of their reliever inhaler (usually blue) every 30-60 seconds, up to a maximum of 10 puffs.
  • If they feel worse at any point while using the inhaler or if they don’t feel better after 10 puffs, call 999 for an ambulance.
  • If the ambulance is taking longer than 15 minutes repeat step 2.
  • If the sufferers heart stops beating, then you need to administer CPR until the ambulance arrives.

Advice and information about asthma is available at: www.asthma.org.uk