Asthma is a common lung condition that can affect adults and children. It is a condition where the airways (tubes taking air into the lungs) tighten up and narrow as a response to an irritant or allergen. For example, asthma sufferers often find their asthma is set off by house dust mites, cold air, exercise or a viral infection.
Asthma is a condition that can change over your life time. In children it commonly disappears as they get older. There is no cure but there are many medicines that help control the symptoms and keep flare-ups at bay.
Asthma inhalers play an important part in managing asthma symptoms and reducing the frequency and severity of asthma attacks. If left untreated asthma can be a life threatening condition.
There are two main types of inhalers that are often used together - these two groups are known as preventers and relievers and these two groups work in different ways.
The reliever inhalers, often referred to by patients as their 'blue inhaler', are for relief of symptoms straight away. If the airways of an asthma patient has been exposed to an allergen or irritant the airways can tighten very quickly. This causes the patient to feel 'wheezy' and tight chested and makes it difficult for the patient to get enough air into their lungs. The reliever inhaler acts quickly to help the airway to relax and widen allowing more air into the lungs, this relieves the tight chested feeling and wheeziness.
In well controlled asthma some patients might not need to use their reliever at all but it is always important to keep it close by just in case. Asthma patients can also tell that their asthma is getting worse if they find they are needing to use their inhaler more and more times a day - this can be a warning sign that they need to have their asthma treatment reviewed to check they are on the right dose of their preventer inhaler.
If you are having breathing difficulties despite using your asthma inhaler it is very important to seek medical advice urgently.
Preventer inhalers work in a different way to relievers. Rather than quickly opening up the airways to provide some immediate relief they work slowly but the effect is long lasting. If taken correctly they reduce the severity of asthma symptoms day to day and reduce the number and severity of asthma flare-ups a patient might have. They require more commitment because, if they are to work, they need to be taken regularly every day. With regular use they work to gradually reduce the sensitivity of the airways and reduce inflammation to get a patient's asthma symptoms under control.