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Asthma Treatments: Which is Right for You?

Asthma is a common lung condition that can affect both children and adults. Those with asthma experience a narrowing of the airways, which can lead to difficulty breathing. In the UK, around one in every 12 adults and one in every 11 children suffer from asthma.

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There is currently no cure for asthma, but there are ways to treat and control symptoms so that the impact of asthma on the daily life of patients is minimised.

Asthma Signs, Symptoms and Treatments

The main signs and symptoms of asthma are the same in children and adults. Patients will usually experience breathlessness, a wheezing or whistling sound when breathing, coughing and a feeling of tightness around the chest.

An asthma attack is an episode during which the symptoms of asthma get temporarily worse. Asthma attacks can be very serious and actually cause hundreds of deaths in the UK each year. However, if you are taking the right asthma treatment for your condition, the chances of you suffering from asthma attacks are greatly reduced.

People who have an allergic condition, such as eczema, hay fever or food allergies are at increased risk of developing asthma; as are those with a family history of asthma.

Some of the most common asthma triggers include:

  • Coming into contact with allergens, including dust, pollen, animal fur/dander or a food that you’re allergic to
  • Strenuous exercise
  • Experiencing an infection or a virus, such as a cold or the flu
  • Taking a medication which reacts with your body to cause asthma symptoms
  • Living in a damp or mouldy environment
  • Sudden changes in weather, temperature or air pressure e.g. on humid days, during storms or windy weather
  • Smoking

Different Types of Asthma Treatment

The most common forms of asthma treatment are asthma inhalers or pumps. They come in two types; relievers and preventers.

Reliever Asthma Treatments

Reliever asthma treatments are to treat the symptoms of asthma once they appear. The medication in reliever inhalers or pumps is designed to provide effective relief quickly by relaxing the muscles surrounding your airways (Asthma.org.uk, 2019) . Salbutamol inhalers are the generic name for this type of medication, and popular brand names for these inhalers include Ventolin and Salamol.

Preventer Asthma Treatments

Preventer inhalers or pumps are used regularly, often once or twice daily, when there are no signs of asthma present, to help prevent the onset of symptoms. Patients are usually only prescribed with preventer medication if they are experiencing asthma symptoms more than a couple of times a week. They contain a type of steroid, which helps to reduce inflammation in your airways. Common names for preventer inhalers include Flixotide, Pulmicort and Symbicort.

It’s important that you are on the right combination of asthma treatment for you, as asthma is a condition that can evolve over time, so your individual course of treatment will need to be tailored around your needs.

Asthma Treatment Side Effects

Side effects are rare with asthma treatment. Some patients may experience side effects while taking certain asthma inhalers, however, not everybody experiences them.

Reliever Asthma Treatment Side Effects

The Side effects of taking reliever asthma treatments are usually rare and minor. These generally occur straight after taking the medication and pass within a few minutes. They can include:

  • Mild shaking of the hands
  • Headaches
  • Pounding or quickening heartbeat (with no chest pain)
  • Muscle cramps

If you do experience more severe side effects, seek medical assistance straight away. These could include:

  • Severe dizziness or passing out
  • Chest pain accompanying a fast or abnormal heartbeat
  • Severe headaches
  • Signs of a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis), such as a skin rash, swelling of the mouth, lips, face, tongue or throat, difficulty breathing or talking, wheezing and tightness in the chest or throat

Preventer Asthma Treatment Side Effects

If used correctly and in the advised doses, preventer inhalers do not usually cause side effects. However, some people do experience mild side effects, which could include:

  • A sore throat and croaky voice
  • A cough
  • Nosebleeds
  • Oral thrush (a fungal infection of the mouth)

As preventer asthma treatments contain steroids, long-term use of high dosages could mean that a small number of patients experience sleeping difficulties, an increased appetite or mood changes. Long-term use of asthma inhalers has been associated with stunted growth in children (NHS.uk, 2014).

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Asthma Treatment Guidelines

Whilst most asthma treatments can be taken safely by the majority of people, if you have other existing conditions or health problems, you should consult your doctor before starting any new type of asthma treatment.

Most reliever and preventer asthma treatments are safe to take if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, but always consult a medical professional before you start taking medication whilst you are expecting a baby, trying for a baby or breastfeeding.

If you have had an allergic reaction to any asthma treatment, or steroids, in the past, discuss alternative treatment options with your doctor.

Smoking can reduce the effectiveness of asthma medication and can also make asthma symptoms worse. There are treatments to help if you are finding it hard to stop smoking.

If you’re taking any other medications, speak to a medical professional before starting asthma treatment to ensure that there is no conflict between the treatments.

It’s important that you use asthma inhalers or pumps exactly as instructed, both in terms of the regularity of dosage and the technique used with the device. This is to maximise the effectiveness of the treatment and to enable better management of your condition.

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References:

Asthma.org.uk. 2019. Reliever Inhalers [Online]. [accessed 23 April 2019]. Available from: https://www.asthma.org.uk/advice/inhalers-medicines-treatments/inhalers-and-spacers/reliever/

Nhs.uk. 2014. Steroid asthma inhalers restrict children’s growth [Online]. [accessed 23 April 2019]. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/news/pregnancy-and-child/steroid-asthma-inhalers-restrict-childrens-growth/