Being diagnosed with asthma can be traumatic, in no small part because the diagnosis often follows an episode of shortness of breath. It is also a shock to hear about a chronic condition that could be lifelong.
For some it may feel like life will never be the same, but this is only partially true. For most sufferers, asthma is a condition that can be kept at bay. With proper care and management you can live a normal life; it does not need to become the centre of your existence. Knowing the facts is the first step.
What is asthma?
Asthma is a common chronic respiratory condition that consists of narrowing and inflammation of the airways. This leads to coughing, wheezing and other unpleasant symptoms. Although the exact causes of asthma are not yet fully understood, we do know that people with a family history of asthma and allergies are more likely to suffer from it.
An attack occurs when the symptoms worsen, restricting the airway sometimes to the point of breathlessness.
Symptoms of asthma can appear at any age. If you experience any of the following, consult your GP immediately.
- Frequent and persistent coughing, particularly at night
- Shortness of breath
- Chest tightness and/or pain
If you experience any of the following acute symptoms, contact emergency services as you could be having an asthma attack. This information comes directly from the NHS:
- Your reliever inhaler isn’t helping
- Your symptoms are getting worse (cough, breathlessness, wheeze or tight chest)
- You’re too breathless to speak, eat or sleep
- Your breathing may get faster and it feels like you can’t get your breath in properly
- Children may complain of a tummy ache
How is asthma treated?
Salbutamol (commercially known as Ventolin among other names) reliever inhalers are the most common form of treatment for asthma. This medication relieves the bronchospasm (a constriction of your respiratory tract) allowing patient’s breathing to return to normal. For more severe cases of asthma steroid inhalers are often used to reduce inflammation of the lungs and restore regular breathing.
Both treatments must be administered under the regular review of your GP or specialist. They help contain asthma attacks and prevent them from becoming worse.
Coping with asthma
It is easy to lose hope of leading a normal life after the initial diagnosis of asthma. You may stop carrying out certain activities for fear of experiencing an attack. However, with the right precautions there is no reason to be afraid.
Your GP can help identify what triggers your asthma episodes. Perhaps it is something that is avoidable, such as pet hair or certain perfumes. If this is the case, then minor lifestyle changes can have a large impact on your health.
According to Asthma UK, if you smoke, quitting can improve your condition as cigarette smoke is an irritant to your lungs. Your overall health will also improve once you rid your body of nicotine.
The idea that people suffering from asthma should avoid exercise is a widespread misconception. After receiving a professional evaluation and beginning treatment you should be able to exercise regularly. In fact, moderate exercise can help strengthen your lungs over time.
Walking, swimming, cycling and many other activities are safe once you have been prescribed the appropriate asthma treatment for your case. Athletes such as world record British marathon runner Paula Radcliffe have achieved great success despite this condition.
Asthma over time
Every case of asthma is different. Childhood asthma is often diagnosed before the child reaches the age of 5, however the evolution of the disease varies from person to person. In some patients symptoms may disappear; for others they may get worse. Because of these variations, regular visits to your doctor are important to ensure your treatment is appropriately adjusted over time.
Because your environment influences symptoms of this condition, if your surroundings change your asthma may change as well. Pay close attention to any new factors that may lead to worsening of your condition.
If you are living with asthma you can remain in control. Keep your reliever inhaler with you, and know the signs of an attack and what to do if you experience one.