Asthma is one of the most common respiratory (breathing) conditions and it can affect anyone, at any age. In fact, it is likely that we all know someone who suffers from asthma. Sufferers are of all different ages and genders, and experience asthma to different severities!
At London Doctors Clinic, we see patients with asthma on a daily basis. Whether they simply need a repeat prescription of an inhaler that has just run out, or whether they would like to discuss better management of their condition, our private doctors are here to help...
The Basics of Asthma
While many of us have heard of asthma, we might not know what it is exactly! It is a condition that affects your airways, making them react to things that would not usually trigger a reaction in healthy individuals, such as dust or frosty air. This overreaction is known as hypersensitivity, and results in two main changes in the airways:
1. The muscles in the walls of the airways tighten, which makes them narrower, making it much more difficult for air to flow in and out of your lungs
2. The airways get clogged up and sticky as excess mucous is produced, which causes cough and adds to the breathlessness
Asthma usually starts in childhood and often runs in families. People who suffer from asthma might often find that they also suffer from eczema and hay fever as well - this is known as the Atopic Triad.
The Impacts of Asthma on Your Life
For many, asthma is a life-long condition. However, if it is well controlled, it doesn't cause regular problems and you can live your life normally. But, if you asthma is uncontrolled, it can result in many visits to your doctors surgery, hospitalisations and missed time off of work or school - which can affect your quality of life significantly.
The Causes of Asthma
At the moment, the causes of asthma are not totally clear, but certain factors are known to be involved.
- Adult onset asthma may develop after a respiratory tract infection (a cold or flu)
- Many modern changes to the ways we live are thought to lead to an increase in asthma occurrence. These include:
- Cleaner living environments
- Types of housing arrangements
- Changes in diet
- There is thought to be a genetic link for asthma
- If someone in your family has asthma, you are more likely to suffer too
- Triggers that set off asthma attacks include:
- Cold air
- Cigarette smoke
- Certain foods e.g. nuts
Exercise can trigger an asthma attack
The Symptoms of Asthma
Symptoms of asthma vary between people. Most people experience at least one of the following symptoms:
- Shortness of breath
- Chest tightness
If you experience these symptoms after exposure to one of the common asthma triggers, or find that it takes you an unusually long time to shake off a cold or flu, it might be more likely that you have asthma.
If you think you or a loved one may be suffering from asthma, it is important that you visit your doctor or private gp to be diagnosed. A diagnosis will usually be based on your answers to the questions asked by your doctor, the findings of an exam of your chest and breathing system, and breathing tests that can be done in your doctor's office. These tests are:
This tests your lung function (the ability of your lungs to work well), both before and after a reliever (in the form of an inhaler).
This measures your ability to breath out air, by calculating the speed at which you can expire (breathe out).
Both of these tests are simple and painless, but can be very important in helping to clarify what is wrong with you.
The Treatment of Asthma
Being diagnosed with a condition like asthma can be frightening, but there is a lot you can do to ensure you keep control of your condition and keep your symptoms from affecting your life. There are two main types of medication available; these are broadly classed into controllers and relievers.
Relievers are medications that you breathe in to relax the muscles around the airways, making it easier to breathe. You should use these types of medications if your symptoms are troubling, or if you are having an asthma attack. Remember to always carry your reliever inhaler with you. You might need this “rescue” inhaler before coming into contact with a known trigger, or if your symptoms unexpectedly start, and they act really quickly to help you to feel better.
You will use your controller inhaler every day, even if you feel well. One of these can be a medication called a corticosteroid, which reduces swelling in your airways and prevents your symptoms from happening.
Sometimes, controller medications may be combined in an inhaler with reliever medications. These are called combination inhalers, and receiving a dose of each type of medication at once helps you to keep your asthma under control.
- Leukotriene Receptor Antagonists or LTRAs help control your asthma by stopping the chemicals responsible for airway narrowing and inflammation. They are usually given as well as your reliever and controller inhalers, and taken as a tablet.
- Theophylline tablets widen your airways and reduce inflammation. If you take these, your Doctor will want to check your blood to ensure that the theophylline is at an acceptable level in your system.
- Controller or steroid tablets contain larger amounts of medication than a controller inhaler and may be prescribed for a short time, in addition to your controller inhaler, if your asthma gets worse
You should use your controller inhaler every day, even if you feel well
Being diagnosed with any breathing condition can be scary, but it is possible to manage and control how much it affects your life by educating yourself, taking a responsible approach to medication, and finding support. Our private doctors at LDC can help you with these aspects of management, and you should book a GP consultation if you are finding it difficult to control your asthma. In doing so, you can effectively control the condition and look forward to a long and healthy life, largely untroubled by asthma symptoms. We now have nine private clinics located across central London, so should never be too far away when you are in search of a "GP near me".
By Melissa Dillon