As the cold of winter begins to bear down on us, those suffering from asthma will likely be noting an increase in their symptoms. With asthma-related deaths having a 20% rise in the UK recently, it can also bring heightened concern for you and your loved ones.
The good news, though, is that two out of three deaths caused by asthma could be prevented with better knowledge and care. So this article is dedicated to raising awareness of how we can help bring down those risks and fatalities, as well as covering basic first aid steps when encountering an asthma-related emergency.
Asthma at a glance
Asthma is a common inflammatory condition, typically affecting the upper airways. It is a long-term condition that can cause coughing, wheezing, chest tightness and breathlessness.
What causes it?
- Common triggers include cigarette smoke, pollen, animal fur/dander, house dust mites, exercise and viral infections.
- Asthma may also be triggered by substances (chemical or allergens) one is exposed to at work.
Who is affected?
- Around 5.4 million people in the UK are currently receiving treatment for asthma.
- In adults, asthma is more common in women than men.
- Children who have been diagnosed with asthma may find the condition disappears or improves during the teenage years, but it may return later in life.
- Unfortunately, there is no cure for asthma.
- Treatments center around two goals--relieving symptoms and preventing future attacks.
- In most cases, treatment involves taking occasional or daily medications, usually in the form of an inhaler.
Knowledge helps in prevention
While asthma itself is not preventable, self-care and taking sensible preventative measures can reduce the risk of asthma symptoms and worsening of the condition. Some of the things you can do to help keep your asthma under control include the following:
- Self-care is an integral part of daily life and involves taking responsibility for your health and wellbeing. In some cases, that includes support from the people involved in your care. Self-care is everything you do to stay fit and maintain good physical and mental health, prevent illnesses or accidents, and care more effectively for minor ailments and other long-term conditions.
- Avoiding triggers will go a long way in helping you prevent asthma attacks. Learn what yours are and be responsible about minimising your contact with those things.
- Taking medications is indeed an important element in prevention. Many patients have preventer medicine that they are prescribed to take daily. Adhering to your doctor’s advice is always a good plan.
- Regular reviews with your doctor means you can easily discuss your symptoms or concerns and adjust your asthma plan accordingly. If you feel you do not have a good relationship with your doctor and find it difficult to talk to him/her, don’t hesitate to seek one you can speak to more freely.
What to know for an asthma emergency
An asthma attack can take a few minutes or a few days to develop, so it’s important to become familiar with the signs (coughing, wheezing or breathlessness) because they can quickly worsen.
Here are signs of an acute asthma attack requiring immediate action:
- Severe shortness of breath
- Rapid, shallow breathing
- Wheezing sound when breathing in and out (if wheezing stops with no improvement in other symptoms, it is an extreme emergency)
- Tightening of chest (feels like someone is sitting on the chest)
- Unable to speak more than one or two words per breath
- Distressed or feeling frightened
- Little or no improvement after using prescribed reliever medication
- Areas at base of throat and between ribs “sucking in and out”
- Blueness around lips
- Hunching over
Note: Not all of the above symptoms may be present.
If you or anyone in your care have any of the signs above, call emergency services immediately and follow the 4-Step Asthma Emergency Plan below.
4-STEP ASTHMA EMERGENCY PLAN
Living with asthma
While asthma cannot be cured, the correct use of medication combined with other self-care measures will help most people control their symptoms. The main focuses of asthma treatment are to:
- keep symptoms under control
- prevent asthma attacks or exacerbations (sudden worsening of symptoms)
- keep lungs as healthy as possible
- stop asthma from interfering with your daily activities
- help you enjoy a full and active life
By gaining more knowledge about asthma, you will learn the best things to include in your action plan as a patient. Or, if you are helping to care for someone with asthma, you will be better equipped for helping him/her manage it. Learning what to do in an asthma emergency is a useful skill whether you are directly involved with an asthma patient or not. Emergencies happen all the time, you could find yourself helping save a life with this knowledge.
To gain a deeper understanding on Asthma visit www.asthma.org.uk or for more hands practical training book yourself on the Level 3 Award in First Aid at Work.