Even though asthma affects 5.4million people in the UK, there are a huge number of misconceptions about the condition. Here, Asthma UK debunks myths about asthma.
1. You can’t die from asthma
Recent research by Asthma UK found that 1 in 5 people in the UK do not think asthma can be fatal but in fact asthma is serious and three people die from asthma attacks every single day in the UK.
“There’s a misconception that asthma isn’t a big deal, but every ten seconds someone is having a potentially life-threatening asthma attack”, says Dr Andy Whittamore, Clinical Lead at Asthma UK and a practising GP.
“An asthma attack can also be terrifying, especially when people are too short of breath to ask for help. People say it feels like trying to breathe through a pillow, or having an elephant sitting on their chest.
“We want people to realise how serious asthma can be but also understand that if they take their medication properly and avoid any asthma triggers where possible, they are much less likely to have an asthma attack. With the right medicines routine, most people with asthma should be able to live symptom-free. You can find out how to manage your asthma by visiting asthma.org.uk/manage.”
2. You only need to take your inhaler when you have symptoms
Many people with asthma think they only need to take their asthma inhalers when they have symptoms but this isn’t the case, as Dr Whittamore explains:
“Most people with asthma are prescribed a preventer inhaler – usually brown – which should be taken every day.
“It reduces inflammation in the airways, meaning people are less likely to react to triggers when they come into contact with them. It can stop people having an asthma attack in the first place. This is particularly important as some triggers, like pollution and pollen, are unavoidable.
“Sometimes it’s hard for people to remember to take their preventer inhaler so at Asthma UK we’d advise that people set a reminder on their phone, or store their inhaler somewhere they’ll easily see it, such as near their toothbrush or next to the mug they use for their morning cup of tea.” The other inhaler people should use is their reliever inhaler, which is usually blue. It is an emergency inhaler to use if people get into difficulties and are struggling to breathe because of their asthma symptoms. It relaxes the muscles which opens up the airways, making it easier for people to breathe again.
Dr Whittamore adds: “If people are needing to use their reliever inhaler more than three times per week they may have an untreated inflammation in their airways and should speak to their asthma nurse, GP or pharmacist.”
3. Asthma is just a kids’ condition – you grow out of it
Remember being told as a child that you’d ‘grow out’ of your asthma? Well, according to Asthma UK, this is often not the case. One in 12 adults are currently living with asthma.
Dr Whittamore explains: “Asthma can come and go throughout someone’s lifetime. Someone might become more exposed to things that trigger their asthma, such as air pollution, or they may develop allergies that trigger it. But stress or changing hormone levels such as during puberty, pregnancy and the menopause can also affect someone’s asthma.
“Some people notice their asthma for the first time in adulthood. They might go weeks, months and even years before something sets off their symptoms again. If symptoms do come back it is important that people get the treatment they need to stay well. If you’re worried your asthma symptoms have come back you can get advice and support by visiting asthma.org.uk/manage.”
4. Having asthma means you can’t exercise
There is a misconception that if you have asthma you can’t do sport, but in fact many top athletes have asthma including runners Paula Radcliffe and Jo Pavey, and footballer David Beckham. “Only a small proportion of people with asthma have what’s known as ‘exercise-induced asthma’, which means they only get symptoms when they do physical activity,” Dr Whittamore explains.
“My advice is that as long as someone’s asthma is well-controlled there is no reason for them to not exercise. In fact, regular activity has been shown to improve lung function and also help combat common asthma triggers such as stress. If people haven’t exercised before they could start with something simple, like getting off the bus a stop early to incorporate a brisk walk into their daily routine. The main thing is to find an activity that works for them. If people have asthma symptoms when they exercise, they should speak to their GP or nurse for advice.”
5. Only your doctor can help you with your asthma
Some people may think only their GP or asthma nurse can help them with their asthma but you could also turn to your pharmacist for advice – and the great thing is you don’t need an appointment, some are open outside of GP surgery hours and many pharmacies have private consultation rooms.
Pharmacists are highly-trained healthcare professionals who can answer questions about asthma, give information and reassurance and some also offer free repeat prescription collection services and peak flow checks.
Some pharmacists can also help you with quitting smoking – one of the best things you can do to help your asthma,’ says Dr Andy Whittamore.”
A pharmacist can help with concerns about side effects or people’s worries about their inhaler not working. If you’re in England, Northern Ireland or Wales (though not Scotland), you can ask for a free 20-minute consultation called a Medicines Use Review to ask questions about your medicines or discuss any worries you might have such as difficulties taking your medicines or side effects.
If you live in England and you’ve been diagnosed with asthma recently or if you’ve been prescribed a new asthma medicine for the first time, you can also ask your pharmacist about the New Medicine Service. This free service is a chance to work with your pharmacist during the first few weeks of taking your new medicine to have any questions answered and to iron out any problems you’re experiencing. For more information on how your pharmacist can help with your asthma visit asthma.org.uk/pharmacist.
Asthma UK provides advice and guidance to people with the asthma through its website and nurse-staffed telephone helpline. It also funds research into a cure for asthma. Visit asthma.org.uk/manage or call 0300 222 5800 (Monday-Friday, 9am-5pm).
1. Charity Awareness Monitor, January 2017, 1,000 adults in Britain aged 16+. Which, if of any, of the following statements do you think is true about asthma? Asthma attacks can be fatal. 16% said no or not sure.
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