Asthma is a condition which can be serious, and needs to be managed with the right medication. It’s a condition that affects the lungs, with swelling of the airways and tightness in the chest making it more difficult to breathe.
Minor cases can be a nuisance, but more severe cases may be life threatening. There’s currently no cure for it, but inhalers can prevent or relieve symptoms, so asthma can be well-managed without it affecting your life too much.
How common is asthma?
More than 8 million people in the UK have been diagnosed with asthma (so around 12% of the population), with approximately 5.4 million receiving treatment for it. So it’s fairly common.
Worldwide, it’s thought to affect more than 300 million people, and be prevalent in 4.5% of the global population. It’s more common in developed countries, but the prevalence of it is increasing in less developed countries too.
You’re more likely to get it as a child than during adulthood, but you can still develop it when you’re a bit older. It affects more boys than girls in early childhood, but this gender ratio switches amongst adults.
Some people grow out of asthma, but it’s normally a long-term condition if you get it as an adult.
Are there different types of asthma?
Yes. There are several different forms of asthma that you can develop. Allergic asthma is caused by allergic reactions to specific substances. Adult-onset asthma first presents in adulthood, while childhood asthma occurs when you’re a child.
There’s also occupational asthma, which you can develop in the workplace (usually due to an allergy), and nocturnal asthma (which occurs at night). You can get acute or chronic asthma, seasonal asthma (which occurs at certain times of the year) and exercise-induced asthma too.
There’s a rare type of asthma called eosinophilic asthma, which is when your body produces too many white blood cells. Eosinophil counts measure the level of white blood cells in your body and can help monitor the condition.
Eosinophilic asthma usually starts in adults between the ages of 35 and 50. We’re still learning about the condition, but it can’t be easily treated with many of the usual medications. Corticosteroids seem to be the best treatment for most people.
When we present you with stats, data, opinion or a consensus, we’ll tell you where this came from. And we’ll only present data as clinically reliable if it’s come from a reputable source, such as a state or government-funded health body, a peer-reviewed medical journal, or a recognised analytics or data body. Read more in our editorial policy.
What causes asthma?
While we know what can trigger an attack, the root cause of asthma isn’t entirely clear.
Genetics, the environment, and the relationship between these two factors are thought to play a role. Asthma rates have also risen in urban areas in the past few decades, which has led some to suggest that air pollution may contribute towards it.
Respiratory infections and physical activity are also linked to asthma attacks, but ultimately the condition can be triggered by many factors which vary from one person to the next.
What to look out for with asthma symptoms
Moderate asthma symptoms include wheezing, coughing and chest tightness. These can be easily treated with the right medication. Severe asthma attack symptoms include being too breathless to speak, dizziness, blue fingers or lips and fainting.
It’s only when asthma symptoms develop into an asthma attack that you should seek immediate medical help, especially if you don’t have your treatment with you. Severe asthma flare-ups can be tackled with medication that eases symptoms very effectively. So in short - it’s important that you always have your asthma treatment with you.
How long does asthma last?
Asthma’s a lifelong condition and there’s currently no cure. Thankfully, it can be well managed with easy-to-take medications that have few side effects. Mild symptoms may only last for a few minutes, whilst more severe symptoms can persist for longer.
Asthma breathing difficulties are the most likely symptoms, which can be alarming when they’re severe. But the good news is that there is medication that can get to work on these symptoms immediately.
What are the different types of asthma treatment?
There are a few different sorts of asthma medication. Long term treatments come as inhalers and tablets, reducing your risk of having an attack. There are also reliever treatments for when an attack comes on, which are usually inhalers. Injections and infusions are available if your asthma is more serious, but you’ll need to see a specialist for that.
Some people use a combination of reliever and preventer treatments, and some inhalers even do both at once. These are called combination inhalers.
What are the different types of asthma inhalers?
Preventer inhalers are usually brown in colour and are the main asthma treatment. They contain a low dose steroid called corticosteroids which keep inflammation and swelling in your airways under control. Because they stop swelling and inflammation from increasing in your airways, there’s less chance of you having a serious reaction to your asthma triggers. It’s important to use this inhaler every day, even when you don’t have symptoms. Most people take their preventer inhaler twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening. Reliever inhalers are only used for quick relief when you get symptoms (or when you’re having an asthma attack). They’re fast acting and work quickly in the airways to relax the muscles, so that you can breathe more freely. Reliever inhalers tend to be blue in colour.There are also combination inhalers, which contain two types of treatment: a corticosteroid preventer and a long-acting bronchodilator. The preventer restricts inflammation in your airways, whilst the long-acting bronchodilator medicine gives you relief on an ongoing basis from symptoms like tightness in the chest and feeling breathless. You need to take your combination inhaler every day, even if you aren’t feeling unwell. It’s important to note that a lot of combination inhalers won’t provide you with quick relief if your symptoms get worse, or if you have an asthma attack. So if you get symptoms, you should always have your reliever inhaler with you to tackle symptoms quickly. Because the medicine in combination inhalers is long acting rather than fast acting, it can’t treat symptoms that develop suddenly. A clinician may recommend that you use a combination inhaler if your preventer inhaler isn’t keeping your asthma under control.
What are the best practices for asthma prevention?
As well as using the preventer inhaler daily, there are a few things you can do to stop an asthma flare-up from happening. Knowing the signs of asthma and what causes them is important as you can avoid many of the triggers that lead to an attack. These can include things you’re allergic to or even stress.
It may also be helpful to maintain the air quality in your work or home if pollution and allergens are a trigger for you. A clinician will normally help you put together a personal action plan that can make it easier to stay on top of your asthma. This includes how to monitor the condition, what you should do if you have an asthma attack and information about your medicines.
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What side effects can asthma inhalers cause?
If you’re using your preventer and reliever inhalers, side effects aren’t particularly common, but it’s important to be aware of them.
Preventer inhalers can cause a sore, or generally irritated, throat. It usually happens when you’ve taken too much treatment, or used consistently high doses. You can avoid this by making sure that the medication spends as little time in your throat as possible. Rinsing your mouth out after use can also help. But if you find that it persists, let our clinician know. They may recommend another type of inhaler or medication.
With reliever inhalers, one in ten people may experience mild shakiness and an increased heartbeat. If you experience these side effects, drop our clinician a message. They can advise you on alternative treatments or they may adjust your dose.
What about asthma and allergies?
Allergic asthma is a common form of the condition. It’s asthma that’s triggered by allergens such as dust mites, pets and pollen, so you should try to manage your exposure to these where you can (keeping your pets out of your bedroom for example, and clean your pet’s bedding and toys regularly). You’ll usually be prescribed a preventer inhaler and a reliever inhaler to tackle the symptoms.
Asthma chest pain is a common reaction to allergies and can easily be mistaken for other health problems, such as a heart attack.
Are there natural remedies for asthma?
There are many complementary treatments for asthma but they shouldn’t replace the prescription medication a clinician recommends. Breathing techniques can help control shortness of breath and reduce the need for reliever treatment, but you should always keep your inhaler close by, just in case.
Air purifiers for asthma can help to reduce allergens as they clean the air, but they can be expensive and aren’t always effective. There’s little evidence that homeopathy or acupuncture offer any benefit.
What’s the difference between an asthma nebulizer and inhaler?
While there are differences in how the two provide the medication, they’re effectively the same thing. Inhalers are worked by a manual pump action, much like an air freshener. Portable nebulizers are powered by a small electrical charge that releases a mist that’s inhaled, while the plug in versions blow air into a mask that you wear. Both are designed to get the medication into the lungs as quickly as possible.
Why should I buy asthma treatment with Treated?
Preventer inhalers, reliever inhalers, combination inhalers. There’s quite a lot to get your head around with asthma medications.
At Treated, we’ll break it all down for you. Let us know about your health and our clinicians will advise you on asthma treatments that are safe and suitable for you to use. You choose your medication, and how often you’d like to receive it from our pharmacy (as well as the quantity of it each time too). Change, pause or cancel your subscription anytime.
We’re on hand to answer any questions you’ve got about your treatment. You just need to sign in and send them a message. They’ll be in touch with you on a regular basis to find out how you’re getting on with your medication, and can make any adjustments for you.
Pearce, N., Sunyer, J., Cheng, S., Chinn, S., Bjorksten, B., Burr, M., Keil, U., Anderson, H.R. and Burney, P. (2000).
Comparison of asthma prevalence in the ISAAC and the ECRHS. ISAAC Steering Committee and the European Community Respiratory Health Survey. International Study of Asthma and Allergies in Childhood. European Respiratory Journal, 16(3), pp.420–426.
Delfino, R.J., Gong, H., Linn, W.S., Hu, Y. and Pellizzari, E.D. (2003).
Respiratory symptoms and peak expiratory flow in children with asthma in relation to volatile organic compounds in exhaled breath and ambient air. Journal of Exposure Science & Environmental Epidemiology, 13(5), pp.348–363.
Asthma inhalers come in lots of colours. However, the most memorable tend to be the brown and blue ones, probably because they are prescribed more frequently. People often refer to their inhalers by the colour instead of their name, as it can be easier to do so. But what do the colours actually mean and how reliable are they as a guide?
By following your asthma action plan you’ll lower the chances of worsening your condition. Asthma can be debilitating, but having a set plan to follow helps you to have more control over your life and your condition.
Disclaimer: The information provided on this page is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any questions or concerns about your health, please talk to a doctor.
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