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We’re here to help…with your asthma

We spoke with Superintendent pharmacist Neil Stewart to find out more about the causes of this common lung condition.

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Put simply, asthma affects the lungs and airways, and occasionally causes breathing difficulties. It often starts in childhood, but can also develop for the first time in adults.

Although there’s no cure yet, a variety of simple treatments can help people to manage the symptoms. More recently, with asthma sufferers being classified as high risk or moderate risk should they contract coronavirus – depending on the severity of their condition – it has never felt more important to talk about this long-term condition.

What causes asthma?

There’s no one-size-fits-all cause; asthma can be induced by different things, and triggers vary from person to person, says Neil.

During summer, and particularly among hay fever sufferers and individuals with a history of allergies, the high pollen count can set off an attack. Environmental triggers also exist, for example, children living near main roads where there are higher levels of car fumes and pollution tend to suffer the most.

What happens during an asthma attack?

Usually, a person’s airways are relaxed and open. But when an asthma attack happens, their airways constrict and become swollen and inflamed. A person experiencing an asthma attack will have symptoms such as a tight chest, shortness of breath, wheezing and a persistent cough – they might liken the sensation to breathing through a straw, or feeling as if someone’s sitting on their chest and restricting their lungs.

What treatments are there?

There are two different types of inhaler available: a ‘reliever’ (the blue inhaler) and a ‘preventer’ (the brown inhaler). The reliever is a quick-acting inhaler that you carry around with you when you feel the need for a bit of relief. A couple of puffs will tend to keep people going, for instance, before embarking on exercise or meeting a friend who has a dog the person is allergic to.

The preventer is a steroid-based treatment that can improve your condition, which means that – if the brown inhaler is working – you’ll need less of the blue inhaler. There are also steroid-based treatments in tablet form, as well as other medicines. In children, a spacer device – a large empty tube – is used with their inhaler. This device ensures more of the medicine reaches their lungs, while enabling them to breathe normally.

How can you manage asthma?

First, it’s so important to take your preventer medicine regularly. Second, it’s about adopting the correct inhaler technique – any pharmacist will be able to demonstrate how to improve the technique of depositing the drug into the lungs. It’s also important to know your triggers and do what you can to avoid them, whether that’s hay fever, cigarette smoke, dust mites, pollen, exercise or stress and anxiety.

How does flu season affect asthma sufferers?

Just as asthma sufferers are categorised as being at high risk or moderate risk from coronavirus, they’re also at-risk during flu season, so it is important to get the flu vaccine. My general message is to know your triggers, what to do during an attack and understand what your treatment plan is.

If you think that you or your child may have asthma, it’s important to talk with your GP to determine the best treatment plan. And to ensure you always have access to medication, you can order repeat prescriptions online from Hey Pharmacist and benefit from free delivery to your front door or collect from your local pharmacy.


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