Unmanaged and out of control asthma and hay fever can be an accident waiting to happen. It can creep up quite slowly, and the signs are easy to ignore. You might think you’ll get better next week, that it’s all under control, just the weather change and you’ll get it sorted next week, but you never know when your triggers will occur so it’s dangerous to ignore early warning signals.
Did you know that 3 people a day die from asthma? It’s a shocking statistic when you consider that some asthma attacks could be avoided or better controlled, perhaps saving lives.
So what is asthma?
Asthma effects the airways in the lungs. If you imagine a stick of broccoli, it starts at its base with a thick stalk, and as you follow the stem up there are branches off and these get ever smaller, with further branches, till you reach the tips. This is a bit like the bronchioles in your lungs. When you breath, air is taken all the way through these myriad of passages right to the very ends which give a huge surface are for oxygen to be absorbed into the body. In the lungs of an asthmatic person these airways restrict, making it harder to breath. Excess mucous can also be produced, further clogging up these already tiny tubes and making breathing difficult, painful and frightening. The mucous is what creates the wheezing rasping associated with asthma.
- Know your peak flow:
Get yourself a peak flow meter of your own so you can take your own readings. Record them regularly when your asthma is under control, and during flare ups so you understand what your healthy reading is. Everyone’s is different. Mine is about 460+ on a good day, but I can also reach a peak flow of about 420 even though I feel totally out of control, dizzy, in pain and can hardly speak. Doctors have told me that I’m not really having an asthma attack on seeing such a healthy reading – so what’s occuring? Am I having a fake attack? Is it possible to maintain a healthy peak flow reading but also be having a serious asthma attack?
- Make sure you take your preventative inhaler
Your doctor will prescribe you with a brown preventitive inhaler. It’s really important to take this regularly at the dose advised. Don’t panic if you forget but try to take it every day. I use a spacer inhaler as the drug itself can cause thrush in your throat which is not nice. If you don’t have a spacer inhaler or don’t like using them, make sure you use the brown inhaler before you brush your teeth. Then gargle some water right at the back of your throat, then clean your teeth. This should prevent any nasty infections from the drug – which, having been blasted right at the back of your throat, sits in a moist warm environment in your mouth – perfect for thrush. Following these simple rules should prevent that happening.
- Keep fit to stay fit
The fitter and healthier I am the more in control my asthma is. I know from experience though that when it’s bad it’s hard to exercise because you can’t breath properly and your body is tense with the effort of trying. Obviously when it’s really bad you need to get it back under control and do things that you can cope with like gentle walking, a short bike ride, gardening or even housework. The more you do the stronger your lungs will become and the better able to cope with any surprise attacks.
- Take something for the pain
If I am having a bad attack I get a lot of pain all along my back. I’ve been told by doctors that this is rubbish, “There are no nerve endings in the lungs so you wont get any pain from asthma!” Well I do! You should find that paracetamol or ibroprofin just helps to ease that pain and help you relax and start to recover quicker.
- And if you do have an attack…
Try to stay calm. Take the blue inhaler, one puff, then wait 30 seconds and take another puff. If it’s not working and you’re getting worse you need to get help quickly. If you are out and can find a first aid point go there, if not you might need to phone 999 for help or get to hospital if someone can take you. I have found that blowing into an empty paper bag really helps. It works because it increases the flow of carbon dioxide into your lungs, improving the supply of oxygen and also calming the hyperventilation that can accompany an asthma attack. It’s not a replacement for the asthma drugs but can really help if you’re struggling to breath.
- Never go out without your blue inhaler
Always make sure you have your blue inhaler in your bag, check it’s full (they can run out quite quickly and without you noticing) and if you don’t use it often, check it’s within date every now and then. You can get pouches to carry inhalers and some epipen cases can also accommodate an inhaler.
- What will happen if you get admitted to hospital
If you have a serious asthma attack a nebuliser is the first treatment you’ll probably have. You’ll be given a mask to put on and you breath in a mixture of the same drug you take in your blue inhaler with oxygen. It works a treat and gives you a bit of a high. I’ve been given chest x-rays and CT scans too but I’m not sure these are entirely necessary for asthma.
- Know your triggers
What triggers off your asthma? Is it being near cats, dogs and other animals? Is it getting excited? Being in a dusty environment? Eating the wrong foods can trigger an anaphylactic attack, which brings asthma as a sypmtom. Hay fever can trigger breathing difficulties, as can being in a different environment such as a concert or outdoor event so make sure you’re prepared. It’s important to keep hay fever under control, even though it seems like small fry if you also have asthma, eczema, food allergies etc. Air borne allergens can also trigger off an asthma attack, and or anaphylactic attack. Unmanaged hay fever can lead on to more food allergies and other sensitivities in later life as the body remains reactive and gets used to reacting to things so other triggers can appear to come out of nowhere.
- Attend regular asthma check ups
If your surgery offers regular asthma check ups then make sure you attend them. I usually learn something new every time I go and it’s just a reminder to ensure things are under control. I am a bit blase about the my asthma. It’s usually very well controlled and I hardly use the blue inhaler, but recently it’s taken a dip and I don’t know why. By ignoring the symptoms and hoping they would go away I ended up in hospital. I don’t know what triggered this recent attack but it could have been a bread roll I ate without fully knowing the ingredients. It could have been hay fever which has been particularly bad this year. I could have been stress – there’s a lot going on in my life at the moment and I know I take on stress without dealing with it properly. All these things together could have been what sparked a frightening attack, but it was a lesson for me that keeping on top of my asthma is important.
- Join Asthma UK and other online forums
Things are changing all the time and also knowing you are not alone can really help. Consider joining Asthma UK and also other online forums, such as talkasthma, and groups. If you have allergies too check out the links page for the Allergy UK, talkallergy and The Anaphylaxis Campaign websites.
About Asthma UK
Asthma UK is the charity dedicated to improving the health and well-being of the 5.4 million people in the UK whose lives are affected by asthma. They invest in research and offer help, information and support to those with the condition in the form of helplines. If you join you will receive their regular monthly newsletter Asthma Plus which is available by email. Find out more at http://www.asthma.org.uk.
Is your asthma under control? What triggers an attack for you? Do you get pain across your back? Keep that asthma in check and stay safe everyone.