Asthma is a condition that affects the airways in the lungs, making it difficult to breathe. In people with asthma, the airways are sensitive and inflamed, and often become narrowed when exposed to certain triggers.
The precise causes of asthma are not understood, but you’re more at risk if you suffer from other allergic conditions such as hay fever or eczema. Other risk factors for asthma include:
Asthma is more common in children; however you can also develop it as an adult. If you develop it in adulthood, it’s more likely to be a long-term condition. If you have it in childhood, there’s a chance that your condition will improve or even disappear altogether as you get older.
Most people with asthma will need to use two inhalers – a preventer and a reliever – and track their symptoms and triggers in a personalised asthma action plan.
Asthma is characterised by wheezing, breathlessness, tightness in the chest, and coughing. These symptoms are more likely to indicate asthma if they are recurring, become worse at night and in the morning, and often seem to be set off by a trigger such as exercise or dust.
An onset of more severe symptoms is known as an asthma attack. The symptoms of a severe asthma attack include:
If you are having a severe asthma attack it is important you seek urgent emergency medical attention by calling 999.
Normally people with asthma have a reliever inhaler, which is blue, and a preventer inhaler, which comes in a variety of colours. A reliever helps to treat asthma symptoms, while a preventer stops the symptoms from arising in the first place.
It might be that your asthma is mild, and you only need a reliever inhaler. However, it’s normally recommended that you start using a preventer if you’re using your reliever three or more times a week. With the correct preventer medication, you should rarely need your reliever.
If you use a preventer, you should use it every single day, exactly as directed by your doctor. If you stop using it, the preventative effect will wear off and symptoms will return.
It may be helpful to see a nurse or a doctor to check how you are using your inhalers. Incorrect or poor technique can lead to the medicines not reaching the airways and not being fully effective.
If your asthma is more severe you may need to take tablets or receive injections from an asthma specialist.
To find out more about asthma inhalers and treatments by booking an online consultation with Doctor Care Anywhere.
Keeping your asthma under control requires lifestyle changes as well as the use of your prescription medications.
Once you’ve received a diagnosis, you’ll need to make an asthma action plan with your doctor or asthma nurse. This is a paper record listing your medicines, asthma triggers, giving guidance on how to notice if your asthma is getting worse and what to do in the event of an asthma attack.
Lifestyle changes recommended for people with asthma include:
You should also try to reduce exposure to your asthma triggers. Common triggers include:
If your asthma is well managed by your prescription medication, your triggers should have less impact. You can make an appointment with one of our clinicians if you're struggling with your asthma.
Content reviewed by Jemma Shafier, a Doctor Care Anywhere GP