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It’s World Asthma Day on 2 May 2017

Picture showing what happens to the lungs during an asthma attackAsthma is a disease that causes the airways within the lungs to narrow and interfere with the way you breath.  The airways of a person with asthma are sensitive or hyper responsive to certain stimuli. They become inflamed and over produce phlegm causing further narrowing. If left untreated or poorly managed this repeated process causes remodelling or permanent changes. The airways remain narrowed and become an obstruction to air passing out of your lungs.

The main symptoms of asthma are:

  • cough, especially at night or the early hours of the morning
  • wheezing or a  whistling sound when you breathe
  • tightness around the chest
  • feeling out of breath

The exact cause of asthma is not known and  therefore there is no cure.  However, a great deal of research has gone into asthma and as a result the way asthma is managed has changed greatly in the last 20 years. Researchers have found that there may be different types of asthma and therefore each person should have an individualised approach to their treatment. Medications have also changed and, with the right ones, asthma can be controlled to have very little impact on your life.

Taking your medication as prescribed (even if you feel well) is the most important part in your asthma  management. There are also a number of other strategies that will allow you to be in control of your asthma.

Know your triggers

  • Certain things can set off an asthma episode. If you can identify which ones affect you then you can take steps to prevent an episode. Common triggers are cold air, allergies and viruses or air pollution.

Know your inhaler technique

  • Often poorly controlled asthma is just down to not using your inhaler correctly. Have your technique checked regularly by your asthma team. There are now many alternatives to how your medication with an inhaler can be delivered (eg using a spacer) if you find using the inhaler alone difficult.

Know your action plan

  • It is good practice to have a written plan of what to do if your asthma symptoms change or worsen. Talk to your asthma team and create a plan that is unique to you.
  • Alongside your action plan, keeping a diary of your symptoms can be a useful method of identifying triggers and patterns.
  • Some people find taking a measurement of how much air they can breath out a useful method of monitoring their symptoms. This is called a peak flow and is measured using a peak flow meter.

Know your asthma team

  • Regular reviews by your asthma team are very important to ensure that your asthma is stable and that you don’t need to make changes to your action plan. These must be by doctors or nurses experienced in asthma.  If phlegm or shortness of breath becomes an ongoing problem, a referral to respiratory physiotherapist to teach you methods on how to manage these symptoms can be hugely beneficial.

Know your breathing pattern

  • Some people can develop unhelpful patterns of breathing. This can contribute to asthma symptoms or in fact mimic them. Fortunately, developing good breathing patterns can be achieved with breathing exercises taught by a respiratory physiotherapist.  They can also teach you breathing techniques to use during an asthma episode alongside your medication that may help to reduce your symptoms.

And finally, know when your asthma is severe

  • It is very important that if you are having an asthma attack which is not responding to your medications that you contact your asthma team (if you have an emergency contact number). If you do not, then you must go into hospital. Medications that can be given in hospital reach your lungs faster.  Severe symptoms include being so out of breath that you can’t finish your sentences when you talk as well,, as worsening wheeze and phlegm . If your peak flow has dropped to less than half the normal number as well, this is another indication to seek help in hospital.

Knowing and understanding your asthma gives you the power to control it and breathe free and easy!

These websites will give you more information and keep you up to date with what’s new in asthma research.

https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/asthma

https://www.blf.org.uk/

 

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Keena Shavji

Keena Shavji is a highly experienced specialist respiratory physiotherapist specialising in the treatment of conditions which affect the heart and lungs, such as cardiac problems, emphysema, chronic bronchitis, and cystic fibrosis.

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