Living with asthma in the UK

Living With Asthma

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Asthma is a common lung condition that causes occasional breathing difficulties. It affects people of all ages and often starts in childhood though it can appear for the first time in adulthood. There is no cure but there are simple treatments that can help keep the symptoms under control. Some people, especially children, may eventually grow out of asthma but for others it is a lifelong condition

The main symptoms of asthma are:

  • Breathlessness
  • A tight chest which may feel like a band is tightening around it
  • Wheezing – a whistling sound when breathing
  • Coughing



What are the symptoms and causes of asthma?

The severity of the symptoms varies from person to person. They usually come and go but for some they are more persistent. Asthma symptoms can sometimes get temporarily worse and this is called an asthma attack. Asthma is caused by inflammation of your breathing tubes that carry air in and out of your lungs. This swelling narrows your breathing tubes and can occur randomly or in response to a trigger. Common triggers include:

  • Other irritants like cigarette smoke, strong smells, gases and cold air
  • Exercise
  • Allergens such as house dust mites, animal fur and pollens
  • Chest infections
Ventolin Inhaler

Treatments for asthma and complications of asthma

Currently there is no cure for asthma but there are several treatments that can help to control the condition. Most treatments include using an inhaler that delivers a spray or powder to your breathing tubes as you breathe in. The main treatments are:

  • Identifying and avoiding asthma triggers if possible
  • Preventer inhalers – inhalers regularly used every day to
  • Reliever inhalers – inhalers used when needed to quickly relieve asthma symptoms for a short time
    reduce inflammation in the breathing tubes, which prevents asthma symptoms.

There can be several complications that can arise from asthma up to and including death 3 people die from asthma every day in the UK. Other complications include:

  • Psychological problems - including stress, anxiety, and depression
  • Disruption of your work and leisure because of unexpected visits to your GP or hospital
  • Underperformance or absence from work or school
  • Lung infections (pneumonia)
  • Persistent tiredness
  • In children delays in growth or puberty

Asthma attacks

If you are suffering from an asthma attack you should:

  1. Call 999 for an ambulance if you don't have your inhaler with you, you feel worse despite using your inhaler, you don't feel better after taking 10 puffs or you're worried at any point.
  2. Sit down and try to take slow, steady breaths. Try to remain calm, as panicking will make things worse
  3. Take one puff of your reliever inhaler (usually blue) every 30-60 seconds up to a maximum of 10 puffs. It is best to use a spacer if you have one
  4. If the ambulance hasn't arrived within 15 minutes repeat step 2

After an attack you should see your GP within 48 hours of leaving hospital or within 24 hours if you don't need hospital treatment. One in six people treated in hospital need hospital care again within two weeks, so it's important to discuss how you can reduce risk of future attacks. The following steps can help you reduce your risk of having an asthma attack:

  • Check with your GP or asthma nurse that you are using your inhaler correctly
  • Follow your personal asthma action plan and take all your medicines as prescribed
  • Have regular asthma reviews with your GP or asthma nurse – these should be done at least once a year
  • Avoid things that trigger your symptoms whenever possible.