The national news has widely reported the dangers of being complacent about asthma today. With around 5.4 million asthma sufferers in the UK, the National Review of Asthma Deaths says that we need to get better at recognising the danger signs.
As part of our own efforts to raise awareness of these signs and World Asthma Day, we’ve been in touch with Gil Ramsden, Lead Practice Nurse for NHS Leeds West Clinical Commissioning Group. She has kindly put together this brief article to help support people who have asthma to take greater control of their health as well as highlighting how your local GP practice, and in particular a practice nurse, can help you.
For those who have asthma you can sometimes feel like you are the only one who might have it but actually it is termed as a common condition. In the UK alone it is estimated that around 5.4 million people have asthma and although it may not feel like it, this is actually a good thing in that people can talk openly about it. However the downside is that some people can also get complacent and not realise the serious impact asthma can have on their health if it is not managed properly.
In the past people considered ‘it’s OK to cough – I’ve got asthma’ but when I hear that I cringe. It’s not OK to cough if you have asthma – modern treatment is designed so that you live your life symptom-free. And the best way to do this is by taking the appropriate treatments prescribed for you by either your practice nurse (sometimes called ‘asthma nurse’) or GP and remembering the advice they have given to you.
As a practice nurse I’ve heard many adults and children talk about their asthma. Over the years I have noticed significant improvement in the treatments available. Not only are they easier to use, they are also easier to carry around which means people are more likely to use them; I even get told by some that they ‘like them’.
If you can’t get an appointment to see your GP why not ask to see your practice nurse who may be the most important or appropriate person to visit at your practice. A practice nurse has often undertaken considerable training to help you manage your condition. Practice nurses care for a wide range of patients, some with well-controlled asthma and others with harder to manage asthma so they will have a wealth of experience to share with you.
You will get advice from a trained healthcare professional on how to take your medication properly including why choosing the correct device is very important. This will include a demonstration of the range of devices available also that we can work with you to choose the right one for you and your lungs!
Your asthma appointment may last from 10-30 minutes; it depends on how long you have had asthma and if you have other conditions. The nurse will encourage you to talk about how your asthma is affecting you, and what you think is the most important approach to managing it – that’s because ultimately you are the expert in managing your asthma.
At the end of your appointment you (or your child) will be given a written asthma management plan. People who have a plan are four times less likely to have an asthma attack that requires treatment in hospital, so keep it handy and make sure it is designed in a way you can understand it and refer back to it. I’ve drawn pictures, tables, written notes – whatever helps the person sitting in front of me; they are the person it matters to most!
Asthma symptoms can be worse at different times of the year – hay fever can be a particular trigger, or changes in the weather. Some people react to cold weather while others react when it is hot; it’s important you think about what your triggers are – sometimes you can’t avoid them – but you are better able to deal with a situation if you can predict it and prepare for it.
It’s that time of year again so as the summer approaches and you book your holiday think about visiting your practice nurse so you are equipped before you go; it’s important to think about this so you can plan and enjoy your holiday by just a little forward thinking. Don’t forget your flu vaccine in the autumn either; not everyone is eligible for a free vaccine on the NHS but if you want one you can easily obtain it – just ask the reception staff at your local GP practice and they will guide you to other providers if necessary.
I hope this short article inspires you to take control of your asthma and I hope you will now be looking for the number of your GP practice and booking an appointment with your practice nurse or GP.
Gil Ramsden, Lead Practice Nurse for NHS Leeds West Clinical Commissioning Group.
PS: While waiting for an appointment please feel free to check this excellent website from Asthma UK which provides simple, straightforward information for children and adults. If you can’t access a computer or app on your mobile phone here’s a few hints and tips about managing your asthma.