Have you taken the test?

Breath is the bridge which connects life to consciousness, which unites your body to your thoughts.

Thich Nhat Hanh

It's Breathe Easy Week!

Let's make some noise for our lung health between 17 and 23 June - and take the breath test below to find out if you need to see the doctor about your lung health.

10% of adults and 30% of older people get breathless every day. It’s one of the most common symptoms of a long-term health problem. Of all the people who go  to see their GP about breathlessness, 68% of cases are usually down to an underlying lung or heart problem.

Asthma is one of the conditions that can make breathing difficult. 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.

What are the symptoms of asthma?

The usual symptoms are:

  • Wheezing
  • Coughing
  • Shortness of breath
  • 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. Read about the types of asthma.

What causes asthma?

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:

  • If you have allergic asthma, your symptoms are triggered by an allergic reaction when you come into contact with an allergen. Common allergens include pollen, pets and house dust mites
  • If you have non-allergic asthma, your symptoms are caused by an irritant you breathe in or another factor, but are not caused by an allergic reaction. Common irritants include cigarette smoke and car exhaust fumes. Common factors that can trigger asthma symptoms include exercise, cold weather, colds and flu.

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.

What can make asthma symptoms worse?

Things that may trigger asthma symptoms include:

  • Infections: particularly colds, coughs and chest infections
  • Pollens and moulds: asthma is often worse in the hay fever season
  • Exercise: however, sport and exercise are good for you if you have asthma. If necessary, you can use an inhaler before exercise to prevent symptoms from developing. However, exercise-induced asthma often represents undertreated asthma. If it occurs, it may indicate a need to step up your usual preventer treatment
  • Certain medicines such as aspirin, ibuprofen and beta-blockers
  • Smoking and cigarette fumes
  • Other fumes and chemicals
  • Certain pillows and mattresses
  • Allergies to animals
  • House dust mites
  • Some foods: this is uncommon
  • Emotion: asthma is not due to “nerves”; however, such things as stress, emotional upset, or laughing may trigger symptoms.

How is asthma diagnosed?

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.

What are the treatments for asthma?

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.

It’s important to take your inhalers correctly.

You should also make sure to get your annual flu shot as a flu infection can be much worse for those with asthma.

The BLF’s online breath test helps people understand if they should see a doctor by asking 10 quick questions.

It’s based on the MRC breathlessness scale, which GPs use when diagnosing someone with a lung condition.

Take the test!