It affects one in 12 people in the UK and is one of the fastest growing conditions in young people. TheSite.org gives you all the facts.
What is it?
Asthma is caused by inflammation and narrowing of the airways in the lungs, which makes breathing difficult. This can be caused by an overproduction of mucus in the lungs, or swelling or spasms of the airways.
Signs you may have asthma include wheezing and breathlessness, a "tight" chest and a dry cough. Symptoms are usually worse at night or early morning, and the feeling of not being able to breathe properly can be very distressing.
When these symptoms intensify it may result in an asthma attack. This may lead to medical attention and possibly hospital treatment, and in rare cases, attacks can be fatal.
Asthma attacks can be triggered by:
- Allergens, such as animal hair, house dust mites;
- Physical exertion;
- Exposure to cold air;
- An infection;
- Reaction to certain medicines e.g. aspirin;
- Chemicals found in the work place;
- Pollutants, such as cigarette smoke.
Not all asthmatics have "allergic asthma" (asthma worsened by allergens), but those that do normally suffer from hay fever and eczema as well.
A new study into asthma has found the genetic defect which causes the condition and skin disorders like eczema. The naughty gene in question produces filaggrin, which protects the skin by keeping water in and infections out. The research shows that most people have two copies of the gene and asthma suffers have only one. This can cause dry, flaky skin and asthma. This research has been dubbed 'a new era' in asthma health care and could help many of the one million young people in Britain who suffer from asthma.
Some asthmatics only need medication in the event of an attack, whereas other need medicine daily. There are a number of treatments:
- Inhalers: The most common form, inhalers, or "puffers", deliver a measured dose of medication in aerosol or powder form, and are breathed in through the mouth. They come in two forms - "preventers", which are taken as prescribed and do not have immediate effect, and "relievers", which relieve the symptoms of an attack straight away.
- Tablets: If the condition is severe or unpredictable, a course of steroids may be prescribed, and they work by reducing inflammation of the airways. A newer form of tablet treatment is leukotriene antagonists, which are usually taken with inhalers.
- Nebulisers: A device that creates a mist of water and asthma medicine that is then breathed in. These are usually used in hospitals in the event of a serious attack, but a few people have them at home.
- Spacers: Usually used by people who find inhalers awkward. They are long tubes that clip onto an inhaler, with a mouthpiece attached.
If you think you may have asthma
Your GP can diagnose asthma using a device called a peak flow meter, which measures the amount and the speed of air expelled from your lungs. But it's not always easy to diagnose, as there are other respiratory problems that appear similar to asthma.
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