Asthma - Living with 

Living with asthma 

Your asthma may get better or worse at different times. There may be periods when you have asthma symptoms, but in between you may be generally well, possibly for many years.

Below are some things you can do to help keep your asthma under control.

Self care

Self care is an integral part of daily life. It involves taking responsibility for your own health and wellbeing, with support from those involved in your care.

It includes what you do every day to stay fit and maintain good physical and mental health, prevent illness or accidents, and care more effectively for minor ailments and long-term conditions.

People living with long-term conditions can benefit enormously from being supported to care for themselves. They can live longer, have a better quality of life, and be more active and independent.

If your child has asthma, they should be encouraged to manage their condition as they get older so they learn about their medication and how to recognise and treat asthma attacks.

Take your medication

It's important that you or your child take any medication as prescribed, even if you start to feel better.

Taking a preventer medication every day using the correct technique will help keep asthma under control and can help prevent asthma attacks.

If you have any questions or concerns about medication you or your child are taking, or its side effects, talk to your doctor or asthma nurse.

Regular reviews

As asthma is a long-term condition, you'll be in regular contact with your healthcare team. You or your child should have checks to ensure the condition is under control and that your current treatment is still appropriate at least once a year.

A good relationship with your team means you can easily discuss your symptoms or concerns. The more the team knows, the more they can help.

Vaccinations

If you have asthma, you may be advised to have a yearly flu jab to protect against flu, as getting flu may make your asthma more difficult to control.

You may also be advised to have a pneumococcal vaccination, a one-off injection that protects against a specific serious chest infection called pneumococcal pneumonia.

Children with asthma still have all their routine vaccinations as outlined in the NHS vaccination schedule.

Stop smoking

If you smoke and have asthma, you should stop smoking as this can significantly reduce the severity and frequency of your symptoms. Smoking can also reduce the effectiveness of asthma medication.

NHS Smokefree can offer advice and encouragement to help you quit smoking. You can call them on 0300 123 1044, or visit the NHS Smokefree website.

If you do not smoke and have asthma, try to avoid being exposed to tobacco smoke because this may trigger your symptoms.

If your child has been diagnosed with asthma, you should try to ensure that nobody smokes around them.

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Daily life hide

With the right treatment and management, asthma shouldn't restrict your daily life (including your sleep) in any way. You should work with your healthcare professionals and strive to achieve this goal.

You should also be confident about how to recognise when your asthma is getting out of control, and what to do if it does.

Sleeping

Asthma symptoms are often worse at night. This means you might wake up some nights coughing or with a tight chest.

If your child has asthma, poor sleep can affect their behaviour and concentration, as well as their ability to learn.

Effectively controlling asthma with the treatment your doctor or nurse recommends will reduce the symptoms, so you or your child should sleep better.

Read about living with insomnia for more tips on getting better sleep.

Exercise

Very occasionally, people with asthma develop symptoms only during exercise. However, usually this is a sign that your asthma could be better controlled generally.

If you or your child have asthma symptoms during or after exercise, speak to your doctor or asthma nurse. It is likely they will review your general symptoms and personal asthma plan to make sure the condition is under control.

Your doctor or asthma nurse may also advise that:

  • you make sure the people you are exercising with know you have asthma
  • you increase your fitness levels gradually
  • you always have your reliever inhaler (usually blue) with you when you exercise
  • you use your reliever inhaler immediately before you warm up
  • you ensure that you always warm up and down thoroughly
  • if you have symptoms while you are exercising, stop what you're doing, take your reliever inhaler and wait until you feel better before starting again

Read about health and fitness for more information on simple ways to exercise.

Diet

Most people with asthma can eat a normal, healthy diet. Occasionally, people with asthma may have food-based allergic triggers and will need to avoid foods such as cows' milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, yeast products, nuts, and some food colourings and preservatives. However, this is uncommon.

Read more about good food and a healthy diet.

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Know your triggers show

It's important to identify possible asthma triggers by making a note of any worsening symptoms or by using your peak flow meter during exposure to certain situations.

Read our page on the causes of asthma for more information about potential triggers. 

Some triggers, such as air pollution, illnesses and certain weather conditions, can be hard to avoid. However, it may be possible to avoid other triggers, such as dust mites, fungal spores, pet fur and certain medications that trigger your symptoms.

Make sure your healthcare team knows about and investigates triggers for your symptoms that you may have noticed yourself.

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Complications of asthma show

Quality of life

Badly controlled asthma can have an adverse effect on your quality of life. The condition can result in:

  • fatigue (extreme tiredness)
  • underperformance or absence from work or school
  • psychological problems – including stress, anxiety and depression
  • disruption of your work and leisure because of unexpected visits to your GP or hospital
  • in children, delays in growth or puberty

Children may also feel excluded from their school friends if they cannot take part in games, sports and social activities.

If you feel your asthma is seriously affecting your quality of life, contact your GP or asthma clinic. Your personal asthma action plan may need to be reviewed to better control the condition.

Respiratory complications

In rare cases, asthma can lead to a number of serious respiratory complications, including:

  • pneumonia
  • the collapse of part or all of the lung
  • respiratory failure  where levels of oxygen in the blood become dangerously low, or levels of carbon dioxide become dangerously high
  • status asthmaticus (severe asthma attacks that do not respond to normal treatment)

All these complications are life threatening and will need medical treatment.

Death

Although most people are able to effectively control their symptoms, asthma can be a life-threatening condition.

Often, people who die from asthma do so at home because they do not recognise when their condition is getting worse or leave it too long to take action.

Do not let this happen to you. Be confident in recognising deterioration of your asthma and what action to take. Take action promptly  never ignore severe asthma.

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Asthma and pregnancy show

As a result of changes that take place in the body during pregnancy, many women find their asthma symptoms change when they are pregnant. Some women find their asthma improves during pregnancy, while others see it worsen. For others, it stays the same.

The most severe asthma symptoms experienced by pregnant women tend to occur between the 24th and 36th week of pregnancy. Symptoms then decrease significantly during the last month of pregnancy.

Only 10% of women experience asthma symptoms during labour and delivery, and these symptoms can normally be controlled through the use of reliever medicine.

It's important to ensure your condition is well controlled during pregnancy, because poorly controlled asthma can lead to complications such as pre-eclampsiapremature birth and restricted growth of the baby in the womb. Good asthma control also minimises the chance of problems during labour and delivery.

You should manage your asthma in the same way you did before you were pregnant. The medicines used for asthma – particularly those that are inhaled – are generally considered to be safe to take during pregnancy and when breastfeeding your child.

The one exception is leukotriene receptor antagonists. These are not known to be harmful, but there is insufficient experience of their use in pregnancy to be absolutely certain.

If, however, you do need to take leukotriene receptor antagonists to control your asthma, you may decide (in discussion with your GP or asthma clinic and obstetrician) that you should carry on taking them and that the potential risks to you and your child from uncontrolled asthma are likely to be far higher than any potential risk from this medicine.

Read more about asthma in pregnancy.

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Asthma at school show

Most children with well-controlled asthma can learn and participate in school activities completely unaffected by their condition.

However, it is important to ensure the school has up-to-date written information about your child's asthma medicines, how much they take, and when they need to take them.

You may also need to supply the school with a spare reliever inhaler for your child to use if they experience symptoms during the school day.

Staff at the school should be able to recognise worsening asthma symptoms and know what to do in the event of an attack, particularly staff supervising sport or physical education.

Your child's school should have an asthma policy in place, which you can ask to see.

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Financial support   show

Depending on how severely asthma affects you on a daily basis, you may be entitled to some benefits, such as:

  • Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) a benefit paid to people who are not able to work because of ill health or disability
  • Disability Living Allowance (DLA) a benefit for disabled children and adults under 65 to help with the extra costs you may have because you have a disability
  • Attendance Allowance a benefit for help with the extra costs you may have if you're 65 or over and have a physical or mental disability, and need someone to help look after you

If you are on a low income, you may also be entitled to some help with healthcare costs.

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Occupational asthma

If you develop asthma because of your work, and this is fully documented by your doctor and your employer, you can make a claim for Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit from the Benefits Agency.

This is a weekly amount paid to people with asthma caused by exposure to a specific substance through their work and is known to be associated with asthma (a complete list is available from the Health and Safety Executive).

If you want to take legal action against your employer because of occupational asthma, your lawyer must act within three years of diagnosis.

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Get in touch with others show

Many people with a long-term health condition experience feelings of stress, anxiety and depression.

You may find it helpful to talk about your experience of asthma with others in a similar position. Patient organisations have local groups where you can meet others who have been diagnosed with asthma and have undergone treatment.

If you experience feelings of depression, talk to your GP. They will be able to give advice and support. Alternatively, find depression support services in your area.

Read more about living with long-term conditions.

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Page last reviewed: 31/07/2014

Next review due: 31/07/2016

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The 1 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

JhonnyBoy85 said on 23 April 2014

One thing I would recommend is an air purifier. I have been suffering from asthma the last 4 years now however since I purchased an air purifier it has really helped. I sleep more peacefully and my symptoms don’t flare up as much as they used to.

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