Asthma is an extremely common chronic and potentially life-threatening condition that affects nearly 10% of children and a large number of adults too. Britain has one of the highest rates of asthma in Europe. 5.4 million people receive treatment for asthma and 3 people in the UK die from asthma every day. It is estimated that 2/3 of these deaths are preventable. There are over 25,000 emergency hospital admissions for asthma amongst children in the UK every year and many more when you include adult asthmatics too. Many asthmatics find that there is a particular time of year when their asthma becomes more difficult to control, for some the cold weather is a challenge, however for many spring is particularly difficult.
When someone has asthma their airways go into spasm which causes tightness of the chest; the linings of the airways become inflamed and produce phlegm leading to extreme difficulty breathing.
Learn the Triggers
There are many different triggers for asthma attacks and most asthmatics are well aware of their trigger points, although they may not always be able to avoid them.
Pollen and pollution are increasingly responsible for asthma triggers and many people find a worsening of their symptoms in spring combined with the onset of Hayfever. There are many species of grasses, trees and weeds in the UK and some people are particularly sensitive to some and do not react at all to others. There is also huge variation around the country as to when pollen is released and people can begin to suffer from hayfever as early as January. About 20% of people with hay fever are allergic to birch tree pollen and this as well as Oak and Plane trees, are responsible for many unpleasant symptoms and can exacerbate asthma.
Grass pollens are the most common cause of hay fever and usually affect people in May, June and July.
Weed pollens (such as nettles and docks) usually release pollen from early spring to early autumn.
If you know pollen is a trigger for your asthma, speak to your GP or asthma nurse and they can give additional support and advice to help you manage your asthma at this time.
Note: alcohol contains histamine which is also released as part of the body’s reaction to allergies. It is therefore strongly suggested that alcohol can increase the sensitivity of the body to pollen and other allergens. It is advisable to avoid alcohol if you have a prone to allergic reactions or are asthmatic.
Symptoms of Asthma
- Shortness of breath
- Tightness in the chest
- Often people find it particularly difficult to breathe out and have an increase in sticky mucus and phlegm
Not everyone will get all of these symptoms.
Note: Encouraging someone to sit upright is generally helpful when dealing with breathing problems. Sitting the wrong way round on a chair may be a good position for them as their airway remains in a clear open position and they have the back of the chair for support.
Do not take them outside for fresh air if it is cold. Cold air often makes symptoms worse.
How to Help in an Asthma Attack
The following guidelines are suitable for both children and adults:
- Be calm and reassuring. Reducing stress and keeping the casualty calm helps them control their symptoms. Panic can increase the severity of an attack.
- Get them to take one to one puff of their reliever inhaler (usually blue), immediately – using a spacer device if available.
- Sit them down, loosen any tight clothing and encourage them to take slow, steady breaths.
- If they do not start to feel better, they should take more puffs of their reliever inhaler.
- If they do not start to feel better after taking their inhaler as above, or if you are worried at any time, call 999/112.
- They should keep taking the reliever inhaler whilst waiting for the paramedics to arrive.
- If you suspect the asthma attack may be due to an allergic reaction and the reliever inhaler is not working, if the person has been prescribed an adrenaline auto-injector in case of an acute allergic reaction, inject them in the upper, outer part of their thigh according to the instructions. If you are worried in any way, check with the emergency services and keep them informed and updated as to the casualty’s condition.
After an Asthma Attack
The casualty should make an appointment with their doctor or asthma nurse for an asthma review, ideally within 48 hours of their attack.
It is strongly advised that you attend a first aid course to understand what to do in a medical emergency. First Aid for Life run specific courses covering how to help someone having an asthma attack in detail.
Visit www.firstaidforlife.org.uk, email [email protected] or phone 0208 675 4036 for more information about our courses. First Aid for Life provides this information for guidance and it is not in any way a substitute for medical advice. First Aid for Life is not responsible or liable for any diagnosis made, or actions taken based on this information.