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Mid-Week MOT: Asthma - Take my breath away.......


The number of Asthma diagnoses are on the increase.

The UK has about 5.4 million adult and child sufferers.

According to figures from Asthma Uk, 3 people die every day as a result of asthma, with someone having a potentially life threatening attack every 10 seconds!

What is asthma? Read on to discover the low down on this troublesome lung disease........

The science bit........

Asthma is a common, chronic lung condition with acute episodes, which often starts in childhood but can occur for the first time later into adulthood. Childhood asthma tends to go away at puberty, adult onset asthma, however, tends to stick around usually for life.

Attacks are characterised by narrowing of the airways and a noisy wheeze on expiration with excess mucus production. The airways are inflammed and sensitive and the patient may be coughing, have chest tightening and breathlessness as well as anxiety. The muscular walls of the bronchioles (small airways) contract and lessen the passage of air to the lungs making it difficult to breathe in but even harder to breathe out, since that is a passive process relying on the elastic properties of healthy airways.

There are many causes of asthma and hundreds of triggers for asthma attacks, which differ in every patient. They can be broadly listed as things like sudden exposure to cold air, chest infection, exertion, smoke, dust, stress and allergies to animals, food or pollen.

There are, of course, other reasons why someone may become wheezy and short of breath and so things like heart problems and other lung conditions must always be excluded.

The asthmatic patient is likely to have tightness of the muscles around the neck and shoulders as they spend a lot of time using them to assist their breathing. In these cases, manual therapy such as osteopathy, can be very helpful to reduce any associated musculoskeletal pain and discomfort, as well as offering help in breathing techniques and good symptom management support.

Treatment options.......

The most important part of the management of asthma is prevention. This usually involves taking small doses of a corticosteroid called beclomethasone via an inhaler.

Inhaled steroids, such as this, reduce inflammation in the lungs as they block the immune systems reactive function. They must be taken every day without fail to gain the maximum benefits and can then be reduced when symptoms are under control. People worry about taking 'steroids' and often associate them with bone density loss and weight gain. The doses taken through an inhaler are actually very small (micrograms) and the worst side effects are likely to be sore throat, voice hoarseness and occassional oral thrush infections. If taken through a device such as a spacer (as above) then these symptoms are less likely and you will receive a more effective dose of the medication. Rinsing the mouth out is also a good idea, ( try to medicate before cleaning teeth morning and night).

Sometimes, the inhaled steroid is not quite enough to treat severe asthma or exacerbations, so oral tablets (prednisolone) are prescribed for a short time at high dose (60mg or so) along with antibiotics if an infection is suspected.

There are a wide variety of inhalers called preventers that are used for long term asthma management, they are various colours and doses.

It is important to remember that the preventer inhalers are not effective in an emergency to treat asthma attack. The one universal treatment is the reliever - ventolin inhaler which is normally blue or grey in colour and is taken in times of acute attack or just before exercise. The medication (salbutamol) is a broncho-dilator and relaxes the muscles in your airways, allowing more air to pass. Salbutamol acts fasts and lasts for a short while.

It should be enough to bring breathing under control during an attack. If you are using your reliever inhaler more than 3 times a day then your asthma is not under good control and you should see your asthma nurse or GP to adjust your preventative meds. If someone is having an asthma attack and the blue inhaler isn't working then please call 999, asthma can be fatal very quickly and is time critical.

For more information regarding asthma and its management, please visit www.asthma.org.uk. If you think you have asthma, see your GP or practice nurse.

As always, for osteopathy in High Wycombe and beyond, call Lucy from OsteoFusion on 07833 321604 or visit www.osteofusion.co.uk.

Thanks for reading.

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