From following your asthma action plan, to knowing how to use an inhaler correctly, read on for our tips to help manage asthma
Asthma is a chronic lung condition that can affect people of any age. It usually starts in childhood but can sometimes develop in adults. Whilst there’s no cure for asthma, there are plenty of ways to help manage symptoms and help prevent it from having a big impact on daily life.
What is asthma?
Simply put, asthma is a common condition which is caused by inflammation (swelling) of the tubes that carry air in and out of the lungs (airways). People with asthma have very sensitive airways, which temporarily narrow, causing breathing difficulties. This narrowing can occur at random or after exposure to a trigger.
It’s not understood why some people have more sensitive airways than others, but those most at risk include people with allergies such as hay fever, or that have a family history of asthma.
What are the symptoms of asthma?
Symptoms can occur occasionally or very frequently in more severe cases. These include:
• Feeling breathless
• A tight chest
It’s important that people with asthma follow their treatment action plan and not ignore symptoms if they’re getting worse. If not treated, asthma can worsen over time or lead to an asthma attack which can be life-threatening.
7 tips for controlling your asthma
1. Follow your asthma action plan
When you’re diagnosed with asthma, your GP or asthma nurse should offer you an asthma action plan, personalised to you. This will include information on what medicines to take, how to monitor your symptoms, what to do if your symptoms get worse, and what to do if you have an asthma attack. If you haven’t been offered an action plan, don’t be afraid to ask your GP for one.
Make sure to follow the plan every day and bring it along to any asthma check-ups so it can be updated if needed. It’s also a good idea to share your plan with close family and friends, as well as your workplace or school if you’re caring for a child with asthma. This is so they know what to do if you experience severe symptoms or an asthma attack.
2. Use your inhaler correctly
Asthma is commonly treated with a reliever inhaler and a preventor inhaler. A reliever should be carried with you everywhere to treat unexpected symptoms when they occur, whilst a preventor should be used every day to help reduce inflammation in the airways and prevent symptoms from occurring before they happen. Sometimes, an inhaler which combines both a preventor and reliever is required.
It’s important to use your inhaler as prescribed and follow a good inhaler technique so you get the right amount of medicine into your airways. If you’re not sure how to use your inhaler(s) ask your pharmacist, GP or asthma nurse to show you how. Different techniques are needed to get the most out of different types of inhalers. We share some tips on how to use the most common type below.
3. Go for an annual asthma review
Booking an annual check-up with your GP or asthma nurse is a great time to assess symptoms, check your inhaler technique and update your asthma action plan and medication if needed. Even if you’re feeling well, these check-ups can make sure your symptoms are under control to avoid any future complications.
If you notice your symptoms are getting worse in between these check-ups or you need to use your reliever inhaler three or more times a week, book an extra appointment to get more support.
4. Identify your triggers
Whilst the cause of asthma is still unknown, there are many common triggers which can set off symptoms. These include:
• Allergies to pollen, pet hair, dust mites or feathers
• Cold and flu viruses
• Smoke and pollution
• Mould and damp
• Weather conditions including cold air, wind, thunderstorms, heat, humidity and sudden changes in temperature
• Exercise (this usually shouldn’t be a trigger if symptoms are under control with appropriate treatment)
• Certain medicines including anti-inflammatory painkillers like ibuprofen and aspirin (always check the label or ask a pharmacist to see if a medicine is suitable for someone with asthma)
Triggers will be different for each person, can be a combination of things and may change throughout the year, such as cold air in the winter and hay fever in the summer. Keeping a note of any possible triggers when you experience symptoms can help you identify and avoid them in future.
5. Get vaccinated against flu & pneumonia
When you have a long-term respiratory condition like asthma, it’s recommended to have both the annual flu vaccination and the one-off pneumococcal vaccine. You may be eligible to get both of these vaccinations for free from the NHS – speak to your GP to check. We offer the Winter Flu Jab Service (both NHS and private) and a private Pneumonia Vaccination Service at some of our pharmacies.*
6. Avoid or stop smoking
Not only can smoking make asthma symptoms worse, but it may mean a higher dose of preventer medicine is needed to manage the inflammation in the airways. All of this can put you at a much higher risk of having an asthma attack, so if you do smoke, it’s advised to quit. We’ve got plenty of tips to help you stop smoking and we also offer advice and stop smoking treatment via Boots Online Doctor.**
7. Exercise regularly & eat healthily
It’s important to maintain a healthy lifestyle when you have asthma. Regular exercise that raises the heartbeat can help improve the stamina in your lungs and reduce breathlessness, whilst eating a balanced and varied diet can support your overall wellbeing. Both can also help you to stay a healthy weight which may reduce your risk of an asthma attack.
How to use an inhaler
Inhalers come in different shapes and sizes, depending on which type you’ve been prescribed. Some people, especially children, are also prescribed a spacer device which is a tube that attaches to some types of inhalers to help get the right amount of medicine into the lungs. It’s always best to follow the instructions provided with your inhaler and spacer or ask a pharmacist, GP or asthma nurse if you’re not sure how to use them.
Below are some tips for using the most common types of inhalers – the metered dose (aerosol) reliever and preventor inhalers. There are also a range of videos showing how to use the other types of inhalers on Asthma + Lung UK.
Remove the cap and shake the inhaler vigorously.
Sit upright and raise your chin to open the airways. Take a few deep breaths and then breathe out slowly.
Immediately place the inhaler into your mouth, make a tight seal around the mouthpiece and start breathing in slowly and deeply through the mouthpiece. Press the canister once to release one dose of medicine and continue to breathe in a co-ordinated action.
Continue breathing in and hold your breath for however long you can for up to 10 seconds. Then breathe out slowly.
If you’ve been prescribed a second dose of the medicine, wait at least 30 seconds before repeating the process.
Asthma inhaler treatments are available via our Boots Online Doctor Asthma Inhalers Service** if you’ve been diagnosed with asthma, know which inhaler has been prescribed before and your asthma is currently well controlled. We offer a range of inhalers in varying doses both to relieve and prevent symptoms.
What to do if you’re having an asthma attack
Asthma attacks can be life-threatening, so it’s important to know the signs. Symptoms can often come on slowly over a period of a few hours or even days, and include:
• You’re coughing or wheezing more than usual, or your chest feels tighter than usual
• Your reliever inhaler (usually blue) is not helping or you need to use it more than every four hours
• You're too breathless to speak, eat or sleep
• Your breathing is getting faster to the point where it feels like you can’t catch your breath
You may have all or only some of these symptoms and should take the following steps:
1. Sit up straight, try to stay calm and do not lie down
2. Take one puff of your reliever inhaler (usually blue) every 30-60 seconds for up to 10 puffs
3. If you feel worse at any point OR you don’t feel better after 10 puffs of your reliever inhaler, call 999 for an ambulance
4. If the ambulance hasn’t arrived after 10 minutes and your symptoms aren’t improving, repeat step 2
5. If your symptoms are no better after repeating step 2, and the ambulance still hasn’t arrived, contact 999 again immediately
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