Asthma: symptoms, treatments and why awareness could save your life
Asthma Asthma kills three people in the UK daily, yet two of these deaths are preventable. Dr Samantha Walker talks about risk reduction - and an exciting new study.
One in 11 people in the UK have asthma but many more are undiagnosed.
"The symptoms of wheeziness (especially at night), shortness of breath, coughing and feeling unable to fill your lungs, may be put down to age, and people with mild symptoms may ignore them," says Dr Samantha Walker, deputy chief executive and director of research and policy at Asthma UK.
Asthma can vary from mild to severe and it can come and go. "Children may appear to grow out of it but it can return later," she says.
Two thirds of asthma deaths are preventable with better routine care - critically a written asthma action plan, annual asthma review and inhaler technique check. Dr Walker also urges, "If you suspect asthma, get it checked quickly. Early detection helps and there are effective treatments.
"If you already have asthma but your symptoms get worse, take it seriously. Get medical help - it can be hard to tell if your symptoms are life-threatening."
A written asthma action plan reduces the likelihood of a hospital admission for asthma by four times, yet only 30 per cent of people with asthma have one. All asthma patients should be helped to draw up an action plan at their regular asthma clinic check-ups.
Close attention to symptoms helps prevent attacks. Asthma UK offers an online risk assessment tool that can help predict attacks in advance and gives advice designed to reduce the possibilities. Careful use of treatments also helps. Asthma patients typically receive two inhalers: a reliever, which delivers drugs to open the airways quickly when symptoms get worse, and a preventer, which contains anti-inflammatory drugs to help prevent attacks.
However, only about 30 per cent of patients use their preventer regularly as prescribed. "Just because it causes symptoms to disappear don't stop using it," says Walker. Avoiding known triggers and doing breathing exercises can also help. "Self-management can keep you out of hospital," she says.
Recent headlines about a potential new treatment using calcilytic drugs are exciting, says Walker. "It is very early days. We need to see tests on people with asthma, but if this increases research funding it will be great. We need a bigger effort to solve the asthma problem."
For downloadable action plans and a risk assessment tool to predict the chances of an attack see www.asthma.org.uk.