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Asthma is a condition which can be serious, and needs to be managed with the right medication. It’s a condition that affects the lungs, with swelling of the airways and tightness in the chest making it more difficult to breathe.
Minor cases can be a nuisance, but more severe cases may be life threatening. There’s currently no cure for it, but inhalers can prevent or relieve symptoms, so asthma can be well-managed without it affecting your life too much.
Worldwide, it’s thought to affect more than 300 million people, and be prevalent in 4.5% of the global population. It’s more common in developed countries, but the prevalence of it is increasing in less developed countries too.
You’re more likely to get it as a child than during adulthood, but you can still develop it when you’re a bit older. It affects more boys than girls in early childhood, but this gender ratio switches amongst adults.
Some people grow out of asthma, but it’s normally a long-term condition if you get it as an adult.
Yes. There are several different forms of asthma that you can develop. Allergic asthma is caused by allergic reactions to specific substances. Adult-onset asthma first presents in adulthood, while childhood asthma occurs when you’re a child.
There’s also occupational asthma, which you can develop in the workplace (usually due to an allergy), and nocturnal asthma (which occurs at night). You can get acute or chronic asthma, seasonal asthma (which occurs at certain times of the year) and exercise-induced asthma too.
There’s a rare type of asthma called eosinophilic asthma, which is when your body produces too many white blood cells. Eosinophil counts measure the level of white blood cells in your body and can help monitor the condition.
Eosinophilic asthma usually starts in adults between the ages of 35 and 50. We’re still learning about the condition, but it can’t be easily treated with many of the usual medications. Corticosteroids seem to be the best treatment for most people.
What is the prevalence of asthma?
Global asthma prevalence in adults: findings from the cross-sectional world health survey. BMC Public Health, 12(1).
Is asthma prevalence still increasing? Expert review of respiratory medicine, 10(1), pp.39–51
Mometasone or Tiotropium in Mild Asthma with a Low Sputum Eosinophil Level. The New England Journal of Medicine. USA. Nejm Group.
How we source info.
When we present you with stats, data, opinion or a consensus, we’ll tell you where this came from. And we’ll only present data as clinically reliable if it’s come from a reputable source, such as a state or government-funded health body, a peer-reviewed medical journal, or a recognised analytics or data body. Read more in our editorial policy.
While we know what can trigger an attack, the root cause of asthma isn’t entirely clear.
Genetics, the environment, and the relationship between these two factors are thought to play a role. Asthma rates have also risen in urban areas in the past few decades, which has led some to suggest that air pollution may contribute towards it.
Respiratory infections and physical activity are also linked to asthma attacks, but ultimately the condition can be triggered by many factors which vary from one person to the next.
Moderate asthma symptoms include wheezing, coughing and chest tightness. These can be easily treated with the right medication. Severe asthma attack symptoms include being too breathless to speak, dizziness, blue fingers or lips and fainting.
It’s only when asthma symptoms develop into an asthma attack that you should seek immediate medical help, especially if you don’t have your treatment with you. Severe asthma flare-ups can be tackled with medication that eases symptoms very effectively. So in short – it’s important that you always have your asthma treatment with you.
Asthma’s a lifelong condition and there’s currently no cure. Thankfully, it can be well managed with easy-to-take medications that have few side effects. Mild symptoms may only last for a few minutes, whilst more severe symptoms can persist for longer.
Asthma breathing difficulties are the most likely symptoms, which can be alarming when they’re severe. But the good news is that there is medication that can get to work on these symptoms immediately.
Leveraging -omics for asthma endotyping. The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, 144(1), pp.13–23.
Comparison of asthma prevalence in the ISAAC and the ECRHS. ISAAC Steering Committee and the European Community Respiratory Health Survey. International Study of Asthma and Allergies in Childhood. European Respiratory Journal, 16(3), pp.420–426.
There are a few different sorts of asthma medication. Long term treatments come as inhalers and tablets, reducing your risk of having an attack. There are also reliever treatments for when an attack comes on, which are usually inhalers. Injections and infusions are available if your asthma is more serious, but you’ll need to see a specialist for that.
Some people use a combination of reliever and preventer treatments, and some inhalers even do both at once. These are called combination inhalers.
Preventer inhalers are usually brown in colour and are the main asthma treatment. They contain a low dose steroid called corticosteroids which keep inflammation and swelling in your airways under control. Because they stop swelling and inflammation from increasing in your airways, there’s less chance of you having a serious reaction to your asthma triggers.
It’s important to use this inhaler every day, even when you don’t have symptoms. Most people take their preventer inhaler twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening.
Reliever inhalers are only used for quick relief when you get symptoms (or when you’re having an asthma attack). They’re fast acting and work quickly in the airways to relax the muscles, so that you can breathe more freely. Reliever inhalers tend to be blue in colour.
There are also combination inhalers, which contain two types of treatment: a corticosteroid preventer and a long-acting bronchodilator. The preventer restricts inflammation in your airways, whilst the long-acting bronchodilator medicine gives you relief on an ongoing basis from symptoms like tightness in the chest and feeling breathless.
You need to take your combination inhaler every day, even if you aren’t feeling unwell.
It’s important to note that a lot of combination inhalers won’t provide you with quick relief if your symptoms get worse, or if you have an asthma attack. So if you get symptoms, you should always have your reliever inhaler with you to tackle symptoms quickly. Because the medicine in combination inhalers is long acting rather than fast acting, it can’t treat symptoms that develop suddenly.
A clinician may recommend that you use a combination inhaler if your preventer inhaler isn’t keeping your asthma under control.
As well as using the preventer inhaler daily, there are a few things you can do to stop an asthma flare-up from happening. Knowing the signs of asthma and what causes them is important as you can avoid many of the triggers that lead to an attack. These can include things you’re allergic to or even stress.
A clinician will normally help you put together a personal action plan that can make it easier to stay on top of your asthma. This includes how to monitor the condition, what you should do if you have an asthma attack and information about your medicines.
Respiratory symptoms and peak expiratory flow in children with asthma in relation to volatile organic compounds in exhaled breath and ambient air. Journal of Exposure Science & Environmental Epidemiology, 13(5), pp.348–363.
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