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Managing Asthma

Managing Asthma: Causes, Symptoms and Triggers

Asthma is a common, long-term disease that affects the bronchi – the airway passages that allow air to pass into the lungs – meaning that sufferers often experience mild to severe breathing difficulties and a tightness in the chest. Around 5 million people in the UK are currently living with asthma and although it often begins in childhood, the disease affects people of all ages and the severity of asthma symptoms can vary greatly from patient to patient.

Like the symptoms, the causes of asthma largely depend on the patient, though research largely suggests that the risk of developing asthma is heightened by the following factors:

  • Being born prematurely or below the average birth weight. Small babies have a higher risk of developing asthma, even more so if they required a ventilator after birth.
  • Being a smoker
  • Having parents or guardians that smoked when you were a child and/or a mother that smoked during pregnancy.
  • Suffering from eczema and/or allergies.
  • Having a family history of asthma and/or eczema
  • Contracting bronchiolitis (a common lung infection) as a child
  • Being regularly exposed to dust, sawdust, etc. at work. This is called occupational asthma.

Has asthma become more common?

In short, yes. Over the past 30 years, there has been a worldwide increase in the amount of people who suffer from asthma. This is largely thought to be down to environmental and lifestyle choices such as living conditions, diet and pollution. Medical researchers have also speculated whether cleaner, more sanitised living conditions have greatly reduced the risk of infections, meaning that children’s immune systems have become less resilient. This immunity is thought to increase the risk of developing asthma.

Though asthma can first appear at any age, it most commonly begins in early childhood, however, ‘late-onset’ or ‘adult-onset’ asthma is also common. This is often caused by viral infections, though as discussed above, occupational asthma can be induced by certain workplace chemicals or bi-products.

Common Asthma Triggers

It is important to distinguish between asthma causes and asthma triggers. Causes contribute to the onset of asthma – the long-term, often chronic condition – while a trigger refers to an activity or stimuli that will worsen the symptoms of asthma. Again, triggers can differ broadly for all sufferers, so the key to managing asthma is to be aware of what your (or your child’s) triggers are.

Common asthma triggers include:

  • Exercise
  • Pollen, dust or pet hair – especially for those with an existing allergy
  • Cold weather
  • Smoking or second-hand cigarette smoke
  • Cold and flu

If you are expecting to come into contact with any of your typical asthma triggers, be sure to be prepared by having your inhaler to hand and try to avoid your triggers directly. For example, if you are visiting a friend with a pet, do not touch or stoke them. Similarly, if a friend or relative is a smoker, politely ask if they could do this away from you.

Asthma Attacks

An asthma attack is characterised by the worsening of typical asthma symptoms. A tightness in the chest is caused by bronchospasm – the contraction of muscles surrounding your airways – while sufferers may find it increasingly hard to breathe or in worse cases, talk.

Effectively managing asthma by avoiding your triggers, measuring blood oxygen levels, administering the correct medication and visiting your GP regularly will greatly reduce your risk of having an asthma attack.

While some children grow out of asthma, many sufferers have to learn to manage their health condition long-term. MySelfCare’s finger pulse reader can help you manage your health by keeping track of your blood oxygen levels, preventing asthma from having a significant impact on your day to day life.