For most people with asthma, if they are worried about their condition, their GP or nurse will be their first port of call. But pharmacists also offer a vital role in helping people with asthma stay safe, and avoid having a potentially life-threatening asthma attack.
“We’d always advise that people go to their GP in the first instance,” advises Sonia Munde, who heads up the telephone helpline, staffed by nurses at Asthma UK.
“But some specially-trained pharmacists can help people with asthma stay well too and the great thing is you don’t need an appointment!
“Pharmacists often see people with asthma more frequently than GPs which means they are well placed to help spot the warning signs that someone’s asthma is not under control and help them to manage their condition.”
Here’s advice from Asthma UK, a charity which offers health advice and funds research into a cure for asthma, on six ways your pharmacist can help you with your asthma:
1. Quickly answer your questions
Pharmacists are highly-trained healthcare professionals and if you have any questions about your asthma or if you feel your asthma is stopping you from leading the life you’d like, you can walk into any community pharmacy and ask to see the pharmacist. Ask them if they provide asthma services and, if they don’t, ask if they can direct you to another nearby that can help.
If you’re able to get help from a specially trained pharmacist, it means you don’t need an appointment and some pharmacies are open outside of GP surgery hours. Many also have private consultation rooms and some offer free repeat prescription collection services and peak flow checks.
2. Help you with your medicine
You can ask many pharmacists about any prescription or over-the-counter medicines you’re taking. 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*. In this consultation, you can ask questions about your medicines, discuss any worries you might have or ask for help to overcome any problems you may be experiencing, such as difficulties taking your medicines or side effects.
If you have new asthma medicine, you can also ask your pharmacist about the New Medicine Service, a free service where you can get your questions answered and iron out any problems your experiencing
*Not everyone is eligible for a Medicines Use Review, ask your pharmacist to see if you are eligible.
3. Help with your inhaler technique
It’s no good if the medicine you’re taking isn’t getting into your airways effectively, so your inhaler technique is really important. Even if you’ve been using the same asthma medicine for years, you might have developed some bad habits with your technique. Lots of people aren’t getting the full benefits, and a few tweaks to how you’re using your inhaler may make all the difference.
Some pharmacists offer an inhaler technique check service and they may be able to answer any questions you have and help ease your concerns.
4. Questions about side-effects
Worried about side effects from your medication? If it’s putting you off taking your asthma medicine, it could put your health at risk. Why not chat to your pharmacist about any side effects you’re worrying about or experiencing, and get advice on how to reduce or manage them?
5. Smoking and weight management
Smoking makes asthma worse over the long term by causing permanent damage to the lungs. It can also trigger asthma symptoms or even an asthma attack in the short term – 53% of people with asthma told Asthma UK that cigarette smoke affects their asthma.
Being overweight can also make your asthma symptoms worse.
Speak to your pharmacist to see what they offer to help you tackle both. They might be able to come up with a plan to help you give up smoking, advise you on the right anti-smoking products to try, as well as giving you information on local quit-smoking and weight management courses and services.
6. Hay fever medication
Did you know, 61% of people with asthma, say their symptoms are triggered by pollen? Asthma and hay fever are linked and an allergy to it could trigger a potentially life-threatening asthma attack.
You can speak to your pharmacist about hay fever medicines that can help your symptoms and reduce your chance of an asthma attack.
If you’re out on a day when the pollen count is high, we’d also advise you to make sure you take your blue reliever inhaler with you – this could be a lifesaver.
Different types of pollen are released at different times of the year. In the UK, tree pollens tend to affect people from March to May each year, but can cause symptoms from as early as January. If pollen triggers your asthma, we’d advise you to check the Met Office’s pollen forecast.
For more information and support about asthma call the Asthma UK nurses on 0300 222 5800 or visit asthma.org.uk/manage