It feels like breathing through a straw – that’s how many people with asthma describe it. But for most people, it doesn’t have to be that way because there’s lots of support available to help control the condition.
I still remember my first asthma attack at a very young age. I know all too well what it feels like. The thought of not being able to breathe used to make me feel panicky about the things that could cause an asthma attack. I was exempt from taking part in some sporting activities at school and even though I was fast at running short distances, I couldn’t take part in long distance running. It also meant I would struggle swimming for long periods of time which felt very frustrating at times. On top of this, my allergies to pollen, dust, mites and smoke would also worsen and often triggered an asthma attack.
No need to say this stopped me from living a normal active life at first but growing up, I started to manage it better. There are still activities I cannot fully participate in and I need to take my inhaler with me wherever I go but thanks to proper treatment and medical support, it’s much better.
Today is World Asthma Day, an annual event organised by the Global Initiative for Asthma (GINA) to improve asthma awareness and care around the world. This year’s theme, “You can control your asthma”, is an opportunity for professionals to raise awareness of the help and advice available for people with asthma.
I think Asthma UK’s strapline, ‘with you every breath of the way’, sums it up nicely. According to their latest figures there are over five million people with asthma in the UK. Over 255,000 people worldwide die from asthma each year and the vast majority of these deaths are preventable.
So what causes asthma?
Asthma can start at any age, it’s not easy to know what causes asthma and what can trigger it but what we know is that:
- If one or both of your parents have asthma you are more likely to have it
- Many aspects of modern lifestyles (changes in housing, diet, a more hygienic environment) may have added to the rise in asthma
- Smoking during pregnancy increases the chance of a child developing asthma
- Being exposed to cigarette smoke increases the chance of developing asthma
- Irritants in the workplace such as dust and chemicals may lead to a person developing asthma
- Environmental pollution can make asthma symptoms worse
- Sudden stress or exercise.
Know the common symptoms of asthma:
- Feeling breathless (you may gasp for breath)
- A tight chest, like a band tightening around it
- Wheezing, which makes a whistling sound when you breathe
- Coughing particularly at night and early morning
- Attacks triggered by exercise, exposure to allergens and other triggers.
Still not every person with asthma will have the same symptoms. You may experience one or more of these symptoms or you may have different symptoms at different times. Some people with asthma may go for extended periods without having any symptoms, others might have symptoms every day and for some, asthma may only be triggered during exercise or with viral infections.
Symptoms that are worse during the night or with exercise can mean your asthma is getting worse or is poorly controlled. So if you suffer from asthma or think you may be starting to develop any of these signs, now is the time to talk to your doctor or nurse.
There’s lots of advice and support available to help you control the condition:
- Find out more on the Asthma UK website
- Check the World Asthma Day GINA campaign
- Visit the NHS UK website and the Leeds Respiratory team
By Emmanuelle Guine-Smith, ASC Communications Team