Asthma is a common long-term inflammatory disease of the airways that causes occasional breathing difficulties. It can affect people of all ages and is likely to start during childhood. However, for some, it may even start much later in life, well into adulthood – called ‘late onset asthma’.
Around 5.4 million people in the UK are currently receiving treatment for asthma: 1.1 million children (1 in 11) and 4.3 million adults (1 in 12).
Unfortunately it is not fully understood exactly what causes a person’s asthma to develop in the first place. Some believe those with asthma may have been born with a genetic predisposition for the condition, whilst pollution and modern hygiene standards have also been considered as possible causes.
As of yet, there is not enough clear evidence to fully explain what causes asthma to begin with.
Those with asthma tend to find that certain things may worsen their symptoms – these are referred to as their ‘triggers’. Anything that irritates your airways and brings on symptoms is a trigger. Such triggers can range from a wide variety of things such as animal hair, cigarette smoke, dust, exercise, pollen, cold weather, pollution, warm weather and many more.
These triggers cause inflammation of the bronchioles (small air passages in the lungs), which in turn then induces an asthma attack (a severe onset of symptoms), which are relieved quickly and properly using the blue reliever inhaler you will have already likely been prescribed.
Examples of environmental factors that can cause asthma symptoms and various allergens include:
- Air pollution.
- Allergies (such as pollen, dust mites, feathers, or animal fur).
- A smokey or polluted environment.
- Emotional triggers (such as stress, traumatic experiences or even excessive laughter).
- Heat and humidity.
- Illness (especially respiratory infections).
- Medicines (such as anti-inflammatory painkillers like Aspirin or Ibruprofen).
- Mould and damp.
- Physical activity (especially aerobic exercise).
People with asthma feel symptoms develop as their airways begin to tighten, inflame, or fill with mucus.
Therefore, the main symptoms of asthma are unsurprisingly associated with difficulty breathing:
- Chest tightness, pain or pressure.
- Coughing (commonly at night).
- Shortness of breath.
- Wheezing (a whistling sound when breathing).
However, other symptoms could arise due to a decrease in oxygen intake and may be the sign of a more serious asthma attack. Therefore, you, or someone close to you, should seek immediate medical attention if you experience any of the following:
- Blue fingers or lips.
- Fast heartbeat.
- Loss of consciousness
If your symptoms have not quickly subsided following treatment (such as through the use of your reliever inhaler), or you do not have treatment nearby, you should consider calling for ambulance as soon as possible. Asthma attacks can kill if they are not taken seriously.
Medical Specialists® have a range of asthma inhalers, which will depend on your need. People with asthma are usually prescribed the two main inhalers. These will normally be a reliever inhaler (blue inhaler) such as Ventolin, to ease the symptoms as they happen, and a preventer inhaler (brown inhaler) such as Qvar that helps to keep the airways open and reduce the risk of an asthma attack.
Asthma inhalers typically comprise of bronchodilators (to open the airways) and corticosteroids (to reduce inflammation). Doses can vary however and treatment will be linked to the needs of the patient, i.e. long-term continuous treatment, or to alleviate the sudden onset of asthma symptoms.
In emergency situations, such as you cannot get a GP appointment or unable to leave the house for long periods, some people may instead opt to buy inhalers online and have their regular asthma medicines simply delivered to their own doorstep.
Besides using your prescribed inhalers as instructed, there are other ways you can manage your asthma. Lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking and if you are overweight, asking your doctor for advice on losing weight and exercise may also help in limiting asthma symptoms.
Asthma inhalers are manufactured in a variety of colours so patients can find it easier to tell the different types of inhaler apart. This is particularly critical for the surrounding friends and family of those with asthma. For example, in the event of a sudden and serious asthma attack, you will quickly need to use your (blue) reliever inhaler. These inhalers offer rapid relief from asthma symptoms and allow you to breathe easily again. Reliever inhalers tend to be blue or a bluish-green colour, preventer inhalers are often brown or a reddish/orangey-brown, and combination inhalers tend to be purple or red.
For people with poorly controlled asthma, their doctor or asthma nurse may choose to prescribe a combination inhaler, which are often identifiable as they are typically purple or red in colour.
The combination inhaler is used only when people feel their symptoms are worsening.
The two active components in the inhalers work in the two different ways: both relieving symptoms and providing long-term treatment. It means that people automatically get the inhaled steroid as they use their reliever. This type of therapy simplifies asthma treatment and could make the condition much easier for people to manage.
People requiring a combination inhaler should be reviewed regularly by their doctor or asthma nurse.
Examples of combination inhalers include:
- Fluticasone & Salmeterol (e.g. Seretide)
- Budesonide & Formoterol (e.g. Symbicort)
- Beclometasone & Formoterol (e.g. Fostair NEXThaler)
Even with combination inhalers having relieving properties, your doctor may still also prescribe a fast-acting reliever if you are deemed as requiring one.
A combination inhaler may be prescribed to those who are having difficulty controlling their symptoms. Certain types of this inhaler (such as Fostair NEXThaler or Symbicort) can also be prescribed by your doctor as part of Maintenance and Reliever Therapy (MART).
If you're on a MART asthma treatment plan however, you will have just one inhaler to use as a preventer and a reliever.
No - you cannot buy asthma medication over the counter as they need to be prescribed to you.
With this in mind, please be aware you will need a diagnosis from your own doctor or asthma nurse to purchase asthma inhalers online, in addition to continue to have regular reviews of your condition with your doctor or asthma nurse.