Woman with asthma

Asthma is a respiratory condition affecting millions of people worldwide. It is characterised by episodes of wheezing, breathlessness, chest tightness, and coughing. Despite being a chronic disease, with the right knowledge and management strategies, individuals with asthma can lead active and healthy lives.  

This ultimate guide aims to provide comprehensive information on understanding asthma, its causes, symptoms, diagnosis, treatments, and how to manage it effectively. By equipping ourselves with accurate information and adopting appropriate treatment plans, we can control asthma’s impact on our lives. Join us as we explore everything you need to know about this condition, from identifying symptoms to navigating treatment options. 

Understanding Asthma 

Asthma is a chronic, inflammatory respiratory condition that significantly impacts the airways of the lungs, leading to episodes of wheezing, breathlessness, chest tightness, and coughing. These symptoms arise from the narrowing and swelling of the bronchial tubes, together with increased mucus production, making breathing difficult. The condition can affect individuals of all ages, though it frequently begins in childhood. 

The types of asthma are: 

  • Allergic Asthma: the most common form, triggered by allergens like pollen, dust mites, and pet dander. 
  • Non-Allergic Asthma: induced by factors such as stress, exercise, cold air, or viral infections, unrelated to allergic reactions. 
  • Exercise-Induced Bronchoconstriction (EIB): asthma symptoms that appear after physical activity. 
  • Occupational Asthma: triggered by inhaling harmful substances at work. 

The exact cause of asthma remains unclear but is thought to be a combination of genetic predisposition and environmental exposures. Triggers vary among individuals but commonly include airborne allergens, respiratory infections, physical activity, cold air, air pollutants, and smoke. Identifying and avoiding personal asthma triggers is crucial for managing the condition effectively. 

Asthma’s complexity means the specific triggers and symptoms can differ widely among patients, making personalised treatment plans essential. Recognising the type of asthma and understanding its triggers are the first steps toward effective management and good asthma control. 

Symptoms of Asthma 

The symptoms of asthma are not only varied but also highly individualised, with some people experiencing mild, intermittent symptoms, while others may face severe, persistent breathing issues that significantly impact their daily lives. Understanding these symptoms is critical for anyone diagnosed with asthma or those who suspect they may have the condition. 

Common Symptoms 

The common symptoms of asthma are: 

  • Wheezing: this is a high-pitched whistling sound made while breathing, especially during an exhale. It results from the narrowing of the airways. 
  • Shortness of Breath: many people with asthma have trouble breathing, often described as a feeling of being unable to catch their breath. This can occur particularly during physical exertion or at night. 
  • Chest Tightness: this can feel like a pressure or squeezing sensation in the chest, often making it difficult to breathe deeply. 
  • Coughing: persistent coughing, especially at night, during exercise, or in cold air, can indicate asthma. The cough is often dry and can be severe enough to interfere with sleep or daily activities. 

Symptoms Triggers 

Asthma symptoms can be triggered or worsened by a variety of factors, including allergens (such as pollen, dust mites, mold, and pet dander), respiratory infections, cold air, exercise, stress, and exposure to irritants like tobacco smoke or pollution. Identifying and avoiding these triggers is a key component of asthma management. 

Variability of Symptoms 

The severity and frequency of asthma symptoms can vary over time, influenced by exposure to triggers, adherence to treatment plans, and other individual factors. Some people may experience periods of symptom-free living, while others may have frequent exacerbations. The unpredictable nature of asthma necessitates a personalised and proactive approach to treatment and management. 

It’s also important to recognise that asthma symptoms can mimic those of other respiratory conditions, making professional diagnosis crucial. If you or someone you know is experiencing these symptoms regularly, it’s vital to consult a healthcare provider for an accurate diagnosis and effective treatment plan. 

Diagnosis of Asthma 

Diagnosing asthma accurately is crucial for developing an effective management plan. Asthma diagnosis involves a combination of medical history evaluation, physical examinations, and specific tests to measure lung function and identify asthma triggers. 

Medical History & Symptoms Review 

The diagnosis journey begins with a thorough review of the individual’s medical history and a discussion of symptoms. The doctor or nurse will inquire about the frequency, duration, and severity of symptoms such as wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness, and coughing. They will also ask about any family history of asthma or allergic conditions, which can increase the risk of developing asthma. 

Physical Examination 

A physical exam can help rule out other conditions that might mimic asthma, such as a respiratory infection or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The doctor may listen to the patient’s lungs for signs of wheezing or other abnormal sounds. 

Lung Function Tests 

In order to confirm the diagnosis of asthma, lung function tests can be performed: 

  • Spirometry: this test measures the amount of air a person can exhale after a deep breath and how quickly they can do so. It helps in assessing the narrowing of the bronchial tubes. 
  • Peak Flow Monitoring: a peak flow meter is a simple device used to measure how hard someone can breathe out. Lower than normal peak flow readings indicate narrowed airways and can help in diagnosing asthma. 
  • Bronchial Challenge Test: also known as a methacholine challenge, this test involves inhaling a substance that can cause the airways to spasm, with changes in lung function monitored. It helps to identify airway hyperresponsiveness, a hallmark of asthma. 
  • FeNO Test: the fractional exhaled nitric oxide test measures the level of nitric oxide in the breath, which can be higher in people with asthma due to airway inflammation. 
  • Allergy Testing: since allergies can trigger or worsen asthma, allergy tests (skin or blood tests) may be conducted to identify specific allergens affecting the patient. 

Early diagnosis and treatment are essential to managing asthma effectively and preventing long-term damage to the lungs. If asthma is suspected, it’s important to consult a healthcare professional for a comprehensive evaluation. 

Medications & Treatments 

Effective asthma management is predicated on the right combination of medications, regular reviews, and a personalised treatment plan. Understanding the roles of different types of inhalers and the importance of adapting treatment to individual needs is crucial for anyone living with asthma. 

Relief Inhalers 

Relief inhalers, also known as rescue inhalers, are a critical component of asthma management. They provide immediate relief from the symptoms of an asthma attack, such as wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath, and chest tightness. Active ingredients like salbutamol act quickly to relax the muscles around the airways, making breathing easier. Patients are advised to carry their relief inhaler with them at all times to address sudden asthma symptoms. 

Preventer Inhalers 

Preventer inhalers are used daily to maintain long-term control of asthma and prevent the onset of symptoms. They contain corticosteroids that reduce inflammation and sensitivity in the airways, addressing the underlying cause of asthma symptoms. Consistent use of preventer inhalers is key to their effectiveness, and it may take several weeks to notice a significant improvement in symptoms. 

Combination Inhalers 

Combination inhalers offer the benefits of both a corticosteroid and a long-acting beta agonist (LABA), providing both long-term control and relief of asthma symptoms. This dual-action treatment is particularly beneficial for individuals whose asthma is not adequately controlled by a preventer inhaler alone. Combination inhalers simplify the treatment regimen, potentially improving adherence and overall asthma control. 

e-Surgery supports patients with asthma, providing a wide range of relief and preventer inhalers. With the convenience of online ordering and convenient access to expert advice, we make it easier for patients to manage their asthma effectively. 

The Importance of Regular Medication Reviews 

Asthma is a variable condition, and its control can change over time. Regular medication reviews with a doctor are essential to ensure that the treatment plan remains effective and is adjusted based on the patient’s current level of asthma control. These reviews are also an opportunity to discuss any side effects or concerns and to ensure that the patient is using inhalers correctly for maximum benefit. 

Living With Asthma 

Living with asthma requires understanding how to manage the condition effectively to minimise its impact on daily activities and overall quality of life. By adopting certain strategies and making lifestyle adjustments, individuals with asthma can maintain control over their symptoms and reduce the frequency of asthma attacks. 

Identifying Triggers 

Identifying personal asthma triggers is crucial. Common triggers include allergens (such as pollen, dust mites, and pet dander), tobacco smoke, air pollution, cold air, and exercise. Keeping a diary can help track symptoms and identify potential triggers. Once identified, taking steps to minimise exposure—such as using air purifiers, avoiding smoking areas, and staying indoors on high pollen days—can significantly reduce the risk of asthma exacerbations. 

Lifestyle Changes 

Incorporating regular, moderate exercise into your routine can improve lung function and overall health. However, it’s important to choose activities that are less likely to trigger asthma symptoms, such as swimming or walking, and use pre-exercise medication if recommended by your healthcare provider. 

A balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can also support asthma management by promoting overall health and possibly reducing inflammation. Additionally, managing stress through techniques such as yoga, meditation, or deep breathing exercises can help prevent asthma symptoms triggered by stress. 

Emergency Asthma Care 

Recognising and responding promptly to the signs of an asthma attack can be lifesaving. Symptoms of a severe asthma attack include extreme difficulty breathing, bluish lips or face, severe anxiety due to shortness of breath, and rapid worsening of symptoms despite using a quick-relief inhaler. In such emergencies, follow the asthma action plan’s instructions, use the quick-relief inhaler immediately, and seek urgent medical help if symptoms do not improve within a few minutes. Knowing when and how to act in these situations is crucial for anyone living with asthma or those caring for someone with asthma. 

Next Steps 

It’s important to remember that while asthma can be a challenging condition, effective management is entirely possible with the right knowledge, strategies, and resources. By understanding asthma, recognising its symptoms, and knowing how to respond to asthma attacks, you’re already on the path to better asthma control. A few key steps you can take include: 

  • Consult Healthcare Providers: regular check-ups with healthcare professionals and asthma reviews are essential to monitor your asthma and adjust your treatment plan as needed. Don’t hesitate to ask questions or express concerns about your symptoms or medication. 
  • Stay Informed: keep learning about asthma and its management. Knowledge is power when it comes to living with a chronic condition. 
  • Prepare an Asthma Action Plan: work with your healthcare provider to create or update your personalised asthma action plan, ensuring you know how to manage your asthma daily and how to act in an emergency. 

e-Surgery is here to support you in managing your asthma. With a wide range of asthma medications available, easy access to healthcare advice, and resources to help you understand and manage your condition, e-Surgery is your go-to online pharmacy for all your asthma care needs. Additionally, e-Surgery also offers a ‘Ask-a-Pharmacist‘ service if you require additional healthcare advice. We’re here to help!

Explore our asthma medication product pages, read our informative blogs, and take advantage of our convenient, discreet, and accessible services designed to help you maintain control over your asthma.