During an asthma attack, a person’s airways become swollen, making it harder for air to get in and out of the lungs. It can feel a bit like trying to breathe in and out through a straw. Sometimes extra mucus can be produced, which makes it harder to breathe.
In between attacks, breathing can seem to be normal.
How common is asthma?
Asthma is very common, with one in 11 children diagnosed in the UK. Asthma can start at any age, including babies, but it is most common in school-age children.
It is not always known why one person gets asthma and another does not, but we do know that if anyone else in your family has asthma, eczema or allergies you are more likely to develop it. If your parents smoke or you live in a smoky environment, you are also more likely to have asthma.
What are the symptoms of asthma?
The most common symptoms are:
- Shortness of breath.
- Feeling of tightness in the chest – some people describe it as feeling as though an elephant is sitting on their chest.
What causes a flare-up?
Lots of things can cause a flare-up, and sometimes it is not always possible to find the cause. Different things will affect different people. Some of the most common triggers are:
- Furry animals.
- Cigarette smoke.
- Dust mites.
- Colds and viral infections.
- The weather.
- Certain foods may cause an attack in some people.
- Some people may find that they become wheezy when they exercise.
How is asthma treated?
There are lots of different treatments for asthma, and your doctor or nurse will help to decide which is the best for you.
If you know what causes your asthma, it may be possible to avoid the trigger.
There are two main types of medicine that are used – ‘reliever’ medicines that help when you are having an attack and ‘preventer’ medicines that help reduce the likelihood of having an attack. Both are usually given by an inhaler.
If you have been prescribed a preventer inhaler by your doctor or nurse, it is really important that you carry on taking it even if you feel well. Do not stop taking it without discussing with your doctor or nurse, and make sure that your parent or carer orders another one before it runs out.
It is really important that you listen to the doctor or nurse when they are telling you how to use your medicines and that you do as they say. It is also important that you let them know if the medicines do not seem to work properly.
Asthma and school
If you have asthma it is really important that your school knows, and also knows what medicine you are taking.
If you have a reliever medicine you must have it with you or it should be easily available at all times.
- It should be labelled with your name.
- It should be in date.
- Make sure that you take your reliever inhaler with you if you go on any trips.
- Make sure you use it as you have been instructed to.
- Let an adult who cares for you know if you are using it more than usual.
- If you do get wheezy during exercise, ask your doctor if you should use your reliever inhaler before exercise.
Things that can help your asthma
- Avoiding anything that you know makes your asthma worse.
- Take any medicine that your doctor recommends as instructed.
- Make sure that you eat a healthy, balanced diet.
- Get plenty of sleep.
- Regular exercise.