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With 5.4 million asthma sufferers in the UK and one person every ten seconds having a life-threatening attack; would you know what to do?

According to the charity Asthma UK there are 5.4 million people with asthma. This equates to one sufferer out of every five homes. With shocking statistics such as one person every ten seconds having a potentially life-threatening attack when 90% of asthma deaths are considered preventable, it’s no wonder it’s the main topic of conversation on my son’s playground at the minute.

So what actually is it you ask? Well, asthma is a common illness affecting the airways; the airways are inflamed and swollen and when you come into contact with your trigger, this will cause an ‘attack.’ An asthma attack is when the airways become more irritated and swollen, increasing the flow of mucus which then gets in the way and prevents the movement of air. The muscles in the chest tighten, making it harder to breathe.

There are many triggers for asthma and it may take some time to work out what triggers your attacks.

Indeed Stephen Fry has reported to Asthma UK his trigger is champagne! Some of the triggers are things we touched on in the last article on allergies, such as hay fever, bee and wasp stings, foods; other common triggers include pets, house dust mites, mould, weather, emotions, hormones, pregnancy and even sex!

Many people are under the misapprehension that having asthma means you cannot exercise, will take lots of steroids and end up with stunted growth. Children will always be ‘sickly children’ and that it’s best not to give them their inhaler but to let them ‘tough it out’ and get used to coping without it. Certainly this isn’t the case at all. Many famous sporting legends such as Laura Trott (Gold winning cyclist) David Beckham and Paula Radcliffe (world marathon record holder) are well known as having asthma and they certainly haven’t let it stop them reaching the pinnacles of their chosen sports!

In not giving an asthma sufferer their inhaler you not only increase the chance of a potentially serious attack, but the person may be more likely to become ill, tired, generally struggle with their health as they may be weak through lack of air. If your child has asthma you may have concerns about working in partnership with the school on how you wish for the attack to be managed, or finding childcare for younger children you are happy with. There are some great free downloads or resources you can access on the website www.asthma.org.uk

An attack itself may manifest itself in some very obvious ways. There may be noisy breathing, which may sound wheezy, or like a whistle. The person may complain of a tight chest; they will most likely be coughing. They may be starting to breathe more quickly and possibly making rapid shoulder shrugging movements. The person may feel like they can’t get their breath in properly; younger children may even complain of tummy pain. If the attack continues, they may not be able to speak, or even sleep. The person may change in colour. You might find initially they look flushed in the face; as it continues you may notice the colour drains from their face leaving them pale and ghostly, or they may possibly start turning cyanosed ( blue) around the lips or mouth.

From a first aid treatment perspective the first thing to do is sit down and try to keep calm (I know it’s easier said than done). Try to take deep even breaths if you can and immediately take your reliever inhaler (normally blue one) the usual dose is 2 puffs but always refer to the guidelines given to you by your healthcare professional. If the inhaler doesn’t work it’s recommended you take one further puff, in a few minutes time. If the attack still isn’t lessening you would continue to take one puff every few minutes to a maximum of 10 puffs. You may feel a little shaky. Don’t worry, this is fairly common and will ease off quite quickly. If you don’t begin to feel better or at any time become worried you should immediately call 999/112.

Following an attack it’s always advisable to see your GP or asthma practice nurse as it may mean your drugs are not working as well as they ought to and you may need some dose adjustments.

My top tips to ensure you keep your asthma as controlled as possible:

If you have a space device (two plastic chambers that click together, the inhaler goes one end and a mouth piece the other end) prescribed to you, please use it as it increases the effectiveness in the way the inhaler is delivered. You also need to take it apart monthly and wash in warm, soapy water and allow to drip dry. This removes any built-up medicine from the chamber and stops static build-up inside the chamber.

Always shake your inhaler in between doses. Do not attempt to double push the inhaler without reshaking first. Think of the inhaler as like optics in a bar; the drug needs to reset into the dosage system.

Finally if you have a preventer inhaler (usually taken twice a day to stop an attack occurring in the first place), you must ensure you take it regularly as it will take approximately 14 days for the drug to get into your system. Also, please ensure you clean your teeth after administration as it can cause oral thrush if you don’t!

Cheryl Parkes

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