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Asthma: Just the facts

Asthma is a common airway condition. It affects 1 in 11 children and 1 in 12 adults.

Asthma happens as a result of the body’s immune system reacting to triggers. There are a number of different triggers for asthma, including pollen, dust, weather changes, or illness such as a viral infection.

Asthma can affect people of all ages and often develops in childhood, but it can develop at any time.

Asthma is treated by using an inhaler. There are two types of inhalers which are used to manage asthma:

  • The preventer inhaler is used daily to help prevent asthma symptoms occurring.
  • The reliever inhaler is used when symptoms occur, and provides relief for a short period of time.

Some people also need to take tablets to help manage their asthma. People with asthma should have an annual asthma review at their GP surgery.

Boy using asthma inhaler

What causes asthma?

There are a number of factors which could cause asthma:

  • Asthma often runs in families and there is a link between asthma, hayfever and eczema. If you have any of these conditions, the chances of getting asthma are higher
  • Having allergies can increase the chances of developing asthma as some allergies have the same response in the immune system
  • Smoking during pregnancy or around a baby can increase the risk of developing asthma or other breathing problems. Smoking can also increase the onset of asthma in adults
  • Environmental factors, including pollution, can increase the risk of developing asthma, but can also cause the symptoms to be worse for those who already have asthma

Asthma attacks

An asthma attack occurs when the airways become swollen and inflamed, causing the muscles to contract and produce more mucus. This makes it difficult to breathe. Some people have a personal asthma action plan. It’s important that, in the event of an asthma attack, this plan is followed.

During an asthma attack, people will experience symptoms including:

  • Shortness of breath or difficulties in breathing
  • Tight chest
  • Cough
  • Wheeze
  • Difficulty talking or unable to talk in full sentences
  • Change in colour of skin
  • Increased heart rate
  • Increased breathing rate
  • Drowsiness or loss of conscious

If someone is having an asthma attack, they need to take their reliever inhaler as this will help manage their symptoms. Their action plan will advise them on what they need to do.

The key to helping to manage an asthma attack is recognising the symptoms early and seeking medical advice if needed before the symptoms get too serious.

REMEMBER if you are worried or they do not have their plan, you can seek advice from 111. In the event of an emergency and they lose consciousness, call 999.

How to get help

If you have any more questions on this area or would like to speak to somebody about this topic, have a look at the links or search for your local services in the blue box below. Alternatively you can always contact your school nurse.

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