The Royal College of Physicians have issued a report looking at the standard of asthma care in the UK. There are over 5 million asthmatics in Britain, and last year there were more than 1000 deaths from the condition, one of the highest rates in Europe. Medical staff, the report says, need to be better trained to recognise the symptoms of the disease.
Here's your Quick Fire Science on the condition....
- Asthma affects the small airways, or bronchioles, which carry air in and out of the lungs, causing wheezing, difficulty breathing, and in serious cases, death.
- When an asthma sufferer comes into contact with something that irritates their lungs, the muscles in the airways contract, causing the airways to narrow, making it hard to breathe.
- The lining of the airways also becomes inflamed, leading to a build up of sticky mucus, making breathing even harder.
- Most people have triggers for their asthma including cold air, or things they are allergic to. In some cases anxiety - and even laughter - can trigger an attack.
- Some people think that asthma has become more common as our lives have become more hygienic. Childhood exposure to bacteria and viruses may help the immune system recognise what is dangerous, and what isn't. Without this it can over-react to harmless triggers, causing asthma and allergies.
- However this isn't the whole story- pollutants in the environments, and being exposed to cigarette smoke can also increase your chances of developing asthma.
- There is currently no cure, although it can be managed using a combination of drugs and lifestyle changes, such as taking regular exercise and avoiding triggers.
- Drugs prescribed for asthma are delivered via inhalers. There are two main type- relievers and preventative inhalers.
- Relievers contain bronchodilators which widen the airways, and are taken when symptoms are felt. They are usually quick to work, but short acting, although longer acting ones are available.
- Preventative inhalers should be used daily. They usually contain steroids, which reduce inflammation in the airways. They don't work immediately, but build up over time to reduce symptoms.
- Asthma attacks normally occur after a gradual worsening of symptoms over a few days- so any changes should never be ignored.
- If you are with someone who is having an asthma attack, you should help them to take 2 puffs of their inhaler, followed by slow deep breaths. Repeat every 2 minutes, until they have had 10 puffs. If they don't start to feel better, call an ambulance.