What experts want you to know about managing asthma

Many patients with asthma can participate in sports and lead active lifestyles.

A diagnosis of asthma is an excellent reason to quit smoking
Young male using asthma inhaler A diagnosis of asthma is an excellent reason to quit smoking (Alamy Stock Photo)

A new treatment to prevent some of the damage asthma causes could be available to patients soon, UK scientists have suggested.

According to researchers at King’s College London, during an asthma attack, the cells lining the airways are squeezed and destroyed.

A new drug could prevent this, instead of managing the consequences, which is what existing drugs and inhalers already do.

According to the NHS website, asthma is a lung condition that interferes with breathing and affects people of all ages.

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Though it usually starts during childhood, asthma can also develop during adulthood – so what do people who have been diagnosed with asthma need to know? Health experts share their tips.

Do you need to change your lifestyle? 

For Dr Katy Kasraie, private GP at The London General Practice, asthma is a lung condition that causes chronic inflammation and hyper-responsive airways that can present with symptoms such as a chronic cough, especially first thing in the morning or at night, wheezing, shortness of breath and chest tightness.

“For this reason, having a diagnosis of asthma is an excellent reason to quit smoking, as smoking is an irritant that can aggravate and exacerbate asthma by triggering inflammation in your lungs,” said Kasraie.

“Also try and reduce any other allergen exposure by keeping your home as dust-free as possible, and if you have pets, reduce pet dander by dusting and vacuuming your floors and furniture regularly.

“Keeping an air purifier in your bedroom and living room which has HEPA and carbon air filters will improve the air quality in your home and reduce asthma flare-ups.

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“Also, if you suffer from a pollen or grass allergy, or suffer from seasonal hay fever, it’s important to manage your hay fever to reduce any asthma flare-ups.”

Why is getting the right treatment plan important?

The vast majority of patients will respond to treatment but it needs to be tailored for the individual, explained Dr John Chinegwundoh, a respiratory physician at New Victoria Hospital.

“The medications need to be reviewed regularly and adjusted depending on prevailing symptoms and objective tests. Patients should be aiming for minimal or no symptoms, and if the initial treatment is not working, it needs changing,” he said.

Could your treatment change over time if your symptom patterns change?

Kasraie admits that treatment can change over time.

“Treatments with inhalers, such as beta-agonists, which open up your airways by broncho-dilating them, or preventers, such as steroid inhalers that reduce inflammation in your airways, need to be reviewed on a six to 12 monthly basis to see if you’re on the right inhaler and the right dose, and whether you need to step up or down on your treatment plan,” she said.

“Sometimes, during an infective flare-up of a chest infection, which can exacerbate your asthma, you may need a course of antibiotics, and rarely, you may need oral steroids to help you manage your intercurrent illness.”

Can you still do exercise and sports activities?

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Many patients with asthma can participate in sports and lead active lifestyles.

“It’s important to use your inhalers as advised by your doctor, and for those who get exercise-induced asthma, we advise using your broncho-dilating inhalers such as Salbutamol, 30 minutes before any exercise to help open your airways to optimise conditions for exercise,” said Kasraie.

“If you get severely short of breath or wheezy during exercise, it’s advisable to stop exercise and rest, if your symptoms do not improve within a few minutes, take two puffs of your inhaler (this can be a short-acting or long-acting broncho-dilator inhaler called a reliever, or you may have a combo inhaler with beta-agonist and steroid) and see your doctor for a review if your symptoms still persist.”

What should everyone do during an asthma attack?

Even if the asthma diagnosis is quite mild, asking everyone to be aware of the warning signs can have its pros and cons. But Chinegwundoh still thinks it’s worth knowing what to do if you ever find yourself having an asthma attack.

“It’s a balance. Healthcare professionals do not want to alarm patients and cause unnecessary anxiety,” said Chinegwundoh.

“However, asthma still kills and every asthmatic must have an easy-to-understand self-management plan. They need to know how to step up their medications and when to see the GP or go to the local emergency department.

“Taking the preventer asthma medications is the best protection but sometimes even with regular use, asthma attacks can still happen and early intervention is essential.”