Asthma is a lung disease which affects an estimated 100 million people worldwide. A lot is known about common triggers for attacks, and there are many effective treatments, but the causes are still unknown.
Cases have more than trebled in the past 10 years and the majority of those are among the very young. One in seven children in the UK is now asthmatic.
Shortness of breath, wheezing and coughing in varying degrees of severity. If you think you or your child is asthmatic, your GP will run a series of simple breathing tests to measure your lung-capacity and help you work out a personal treatment programme.
During an asthma attack, the muscles surrounding the airways swell up and your lungs produce excess mucus which clogs the passages and reduces your ability to breath. In a small child, the accompanying panic can add to the problem so try and keep them calm while you administer their inhaler or call for help.
Triggers for Asthma
Respiratory Infections: Colds and flu are the most common trigger.
Irritants: Pollution, smoke, car fumes, perfumes, chemicals, aerosols, etc.
Allergens: Dust mites, moulds, pollen, animal hair, feathers, dry skin of pets. Some asthmatics are sensitive to certain foods and drugs. Recent research has shown that royal jelly can cause serious side effects in asthmatics.
Weather: Cold air, hot smoggy days, or sudden changes in air temperature.
Exercise: Strenuous exercise, especially in a dry environment.
Intense emotion: Laughing, emotional stress, fear, fatigue, panic etc.
Hormones: Pregnancy can make asthma more severe or bring it on for the first time.
Preventative inhalers are used daily to prevent inflammation and blockage of the airways. They generally offer no relief once an attack has begun. Relief inhalers dilate or open the airways to give immediate relief once an asthmatic feels short of breath.
Two new treatments for asthma have just been launched. They come in tablet form. However they have not been around very long and are being prescribed in addition to existing medication.
Complementary treatments allow asthmatics to feel they are doing something constructive. Breathing techniques such as the Buteyko method or yoga will help an asthmatic control their breathing while also reducing stress.
Homeopaths have had some success with administering tiny doses of allergens to patients so that they build up their natural immunity and certain herbal medicines such as ginkgo bilboa and tylophora asthmatica may help. However, consult your GP first and keep these treatments "complementary".
What you can do if you have asthma
Bed covers, sheets blankets and pillow cases should be washed frequently
Buy foam rather than feather pillows and duvets which can be machine washed
Avoid damp as it encourages the growth of fungus, moulds and mites.
Avoid being around when the lawn is being cut
Don't keep pets
Avoid smoky environments
Drink plenty of water
Take regular exercise
Dept of Environment Pollution Helpline: 0800 556677
Asthma Helpline: 0345 010203 http://www.asthma.org.uk
Teletext page 106; Ceefax pages 410-417
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