The aim of World Asthma Day is to raise awareness, care and support for those affected by asthma. Whilst the primary focus is supporting the person with asthma, support may also extend to family, friends and caregivers.
And with a recent study finding that four million cases of childhood asthma could be caused by air pollution from traffic - around 13% of those diagnosed each year, it’s worth taking a breath to think about it and learn a bit more.
5.4 million people in the UK are currently receiving treatment for asthma: 1.1 million children and 4.3 million adults.
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 include wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath and tightness in the chest. 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.