If you’ve been diagnosed with asthma, you might already be taking steps which help you to live well with the condition. Perhaps you’re taking prescribed medication or are following the advice of your doctor. But resent research from Asthma UK, a charity which funds research into a cure for asthma and has a nurse-staffed helpline, showed that 65% of people living with asthma don’t receive the basic care they should be getting.
It’s important to take responsibility for your health, actively manage your condition and make sure your basic care needs are being met. Asthma UK’s Clinical Lead and GP Dr Andy Whittamore, explains.
Why basic care is important for people with asthma
There are many healthcare professionals providing exemplary care for people with asthma under very difficult conditions. As a GP, I understand the pressure the NHS is under but if people with asthma don’t get basic care it could mean they end up in A&E or are at risk of dying from an asthma attack. There are things you can do to proactively manage your asthma and stay safe. Try the following tips:
1. Have an action plan
If you use a written asthma action plan, you’re four times less likely to be admitted to hospital for your asthma. This is something your GP or asthma nurse should complete with you as part of your asthma review, and is the best thing you can do to keep well with your asthma.
The plan will help you remember what medicines to take and when, what to do if you start having symptoms and will include, a note of your GP or asthma nurse’s contact number. It will also show when your next asthma review is due, as well as monitoring your asthma day by day. We also recommend putting a copy on your fridge as a reminder every day – and telling your friends and family where it is in case there is an emergency.
2. Get the best from your asthma review
This is an appointment with your GP or asthma nurse, which should happen at least once a year, to discuss your asthma and ways you can help manage your symptoms better. However, if you’re having asthma symptoms, don’t wait for your annual check. Give your surgery a call and get seen sooner.
Before you go, write a list of any questions you want to ask. For example, you may feel your medicine dosage isn’t right or want help in coping with your triggers. Also, keep a note of any symptoms to help give your GP an accurate picture. At the appointment, be open about your lifestyle and how often you take your medicine so they can work with you to find medicines that suit you, your asthma and your lifestyle.
Finally, make sure you leave with all your questions answered, an updated written asthma action plan, feeling confident with using your inhaler or medication, and that your next review is booked.
3. Make the most of your pharmacist
Your pharmacist is another health expert you can turn to for advice and support – you don’t need an appointment and some are open outside of GP surgery hours. Many pharmacies have private consultation rooms too.
As well as getting advice and reassurance about your asthma and your medicines, some pharmacists also offer free repeat prescription collection services and, in some cases, asthma reviews. Find out more about how your pharmacist can help with your asthma.
4. Don’t ignore the signs!
Signs your asthma is getting worse include; needing more and more of your reliever inhaler (usually blue), wheezing, waking in the night with coughing or wheezing, and not being able to walk as far or as fast as usual, or being breathless when you do.
If you notice any of these signs, it means your asthma symptoms are getting worse and you need to take action now. This is a vital window of opportunity to prevent an asthma attack. Make an urgent appointment to see your GP or asthma nurse within 24 hours, and follow the advice on your written asthma action plan.
5. Know when to go to A&E vs your GP
If you’re having asthma symptoms, it can be difficult to know whether you need to make an appointment to see your GP or whether it’s time to dial 999 for an ambulance.
If your reliever isn’t helping, you’re too breathless or it’s difficult to speak, eat or sleep you need to call an ambulance. However, if you’re having asthma symptoms or are using your reliever inhaler more than usual, make an appointment to urgently see your GP.
Smoking, or being around other people smoking, can lead to asthma symptoms or even an asthma attack.
It’s not always easy to quit, but giving up smoking is vital if you want to manage your asthma well and lower your risk of an asthma attack. If you have a child with asthma, being in a smoke-free environment will make a big difference to how they manage their asthma symptoms.
7. Use your peak flow test
For those who have a peak flow meter, peak flow readings can help to alert you if your asthma is starting to struggle – sometimes many days before an attack.
To get the best from your peak flow meter, you need to take your readings twice every day, and keep a diary of your symptoms. This is so you can see when your medicines are working and spot when your asthma is getting worse, so you can take action and reduce your risk of an asthma attack. However, do not be falsely reassured by normal peak flows. If you are getting asthma symptoms and they are worse than normal, make an appointment to see your GP or asthma nurse.
8. 12-week Asthma Support Programme
If you are fed up of asthma symptoms taking over your life, you can sign up for Asthma UK’s 12-week asthma support programme, giving free, personalised support through your smartphone. It is designed to boost your confidence and support you with keeping a routine and fitting your medicines into daily life.
Asthma UK provides advice and guidance to people with the asthma through its website and nurse-staffed telephone helpline and funds research into a cure for asthma. For more information visit asthma.org.uk/manage or call 0300 222 5800 (Monday-Friday, 9am-5pm).