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What is Asthma?

Andrew Bellingham

Andrew Bellingham

Pharmacist | 20+ Years | BPharm | Dip Clin Pharm

Asthma is a common respiratory condition which causes temporary breathing problems. It affects millions of people worldwide, and often develops in childhood. 

What Causes Asthma?

Asthma’s development and exacerbation often involve a complex interplay of genetic and environmental factors. Understanding these triggers is essential in managing and preventing asthma effectively.

  • Genetic Predisposition: Asthma can run in families, suggesting a genetic component. Individuals with a family history of asthma or other allergic conditions may have a higher risk of developing the condition themselves.

  • Environmental Influences: Environmental factors, such as exposure to allergens, pollution, tobacco smoke, and respiratory infections, can significantly impact the development and severity of asthma. These environmental factors can interact with genetic predispositions, making some individuals more susceptible to asthma than others.

  • Allergies and Asthma: Allergies and asthma often go hand in hand. Allergic reactions can trigger asthma symptoms in individuals with allergic asthma. Allergic asthma is a common subtype of the condition where allergens like pollen or pet dander prompt airway inflammation.

Symptoms of Asthma

Asthma manifests through a range of common symptoms that can vary in intensity from person to person. These symptoms often include:

  • Coughing: Persistent coughing, especially at night or early morning, is a hallmark symptom of asthma.

  • Wheezing: Wheezing is a high-pitched whistling sound that occurs when breathing, particularly during exhalation.

  • Shortness of Breath: Individuals with asthma may experience a feeling of breathlessness or tightness in the chest.

  • Chest Tightness: Some people with asthma describe a sensation of chest tightness or discomfort.

What Does an Asthma Attack Feel Like?

Experiencing an asthma attack can be frightening and distressing. It’s crucial to recognise the signs and sensations associated with an asthma attack so that prompt action can be taken to manage the situation effectively. Here’s what an asthma attack may feel like:

  • Breathlessness: During an asthma attack, you may suddenly feel a significant tightening or constriction in your chest. Breathing becomes increasingly difficult, and you may struggle to take in enough air.

  • Coughing: Persistent and uncontrollable coughing is often an early sign of an asthma attack. The cough may worsen and become more frequent as the attack progresses.

  • Rapid Breathing: Your breathing rate may increase significantly as you try to compensate for the reduced airflow. This rapid breathing can further exacerbate the feeling of breathlessness.

  • Anxiety and Panic: Asthma attacks can induce anxiety and panic due to the distressing symptoms. It’s common to feel scared and overwhelmed during an attack, which can, in turn, make breathing more difficult.

  • Blue Lips or Fingernails: In severe asthma attacks, a lack of oxygen may lead to a bluish tint on the lips or fingernails, indicating a medical emergency.

  • Inability to Speak: In severe cases, you may find it challenging to speak in full sentences due to the breathlessness and wheezing.

What to Do If You’re Having an Asthma Attack

If you think you’re having an asthma attack, it’s important that you act quickly. The following guide has been taken from the official NHS website

  1. Sit up straight to open your airways as much as possible, and try to remain calm to regulate your breathing. 

  2. Take one puff of your reliever inhaler every minute, up to 10 puffs. 

  3. If you feel worse, or do not feel better after 10 puffs of your reliever, call 999 for an ambulance. 

  4. If the ambulance has not arrived after 10 minutes and your symptoms are not improving, repeat step 2.
  5. If your symptoms still aren’t improving, and the ambulance still hasn’t arrived, contact 999 again immediately.

Please visit the official NHS website for more information.

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