“December's wintery breath is already clouding the pond, frosting the pane, obscuring summer's memory...”
However, for those with asthma, it can be a difficult time. Lots of people find their asthma symptoms get worse over winter because there are more triggers around at this time of year – including chilly weather, colds, mould and chest infections. So, if you’re coughing more, or your chest is tighter at the moment, you’re not alone.
Asthma UK has found that the number of potentially life-threatening asthma attacks in the UK is more that three times higher that previously thought:
Apparently, previous estimates were based on the amount of medication used, missing cases where patients struggled without an inhaler.
Asthma UK also raised concerns that growing numbers of children and adults are suffering from breathing results as a result of air pollution and of poor management of their condition. And yet, two thirds of asthma cases can be prevented with the right care.
Asthma is a long-term condition that affects your airways, i.e. the tubes that carry air in and out of your lungs. Some believe that someone with asthma has “sensitive” airways that are inflamed and ready to react when they come into contact with something they don't like. When a person with asthma comes into contact with something that irritates their sensitive airways even more (an asthma trigger), it causes their body to react:
These reactions cause the airways to become narrower and irritated - making it difficult to breathe and leading to asthma symptoms, such as chest tightness, wheezing, or coughing. Symptoms can range from mild to severe between different people and at different times in the same person. Each episode of symptoms may last just an hour or so, or persist for days or weeks unless treated. Asthma can be fatal, so if you have any symptoms, see your GP. In a severe attack, call 999 if you have taken reliever treatment (inhalers) and are still struggling to breathe.
The usual symptoms are:
Not everyone will get all of the symptoms. Some people experience them from time to time, but otherwise live normal lives doing everything they want to do with very few symptoms. Unfortunately, about five percent of people with asthma have what is known as severe asthma, and they require specialist care and support to manage symptoms. Others have asthma symptoms all the time because they're not taking their medicines, or not taking their medicines correctly.
People with asthma have sensitive airways that are inflamed and are ready to react to triggers that set off symptoms. Although asthma is complicated, there are two main ways that symptoms can be set off:
It is possible that your asthma symptoms can be caused by allergic and non-allergic triggers, which means you can have both allergic and non-allergic asthma. Asthma also tends to run in families, especially when there's also a history of allergies and/or smoking.
Things that may trigger asthma symptoms include:
Sometimes symptoms are typical and the diagnosis is easily made by a doctor. If there is doubt, some simple tests may be arranged. These include spirometry and a peak flow meter assessment.
For most people with asthma, the symptoms can be prevented most of the time with treatment. This includes inhalers that deliver a small dose of medicine directly to the airways. The dose is enough to treat the airways – patients are usually given a reliever to help when symptoms occur and a preventer to prevent the airways from becoming inflamed. Talk to your GP for more details.
You should also make sure to get your annual flu shot as a flu infection can be much worse for those with asthma.