Marc Hutchison Asthma Trust   Marc Hutchison Asthma Trust
Marc Hutchison Asthma Trust


Some key points about asthma

  • Asthma is common. Symptoms can range from mild to severe.
  • Asthma is caused by inflammation in the airways. The cause of the inflammation is not known.
  • The inflammation causes the muscle in the airways to contract, and also extra mucus to form. These make the airways narrower than normal.
  • Symptoms caused by the narrowed airways include: wheeze, cough, and shortness of breath.
  • Certain 'triggers' make symptoms worse in some people. For example, exercise, colds, pollen, allergy to pets, air pollution.
  • Most people with asthma are treated with inhalers.
    • Reliever inhalers relax the muscle in the airways. This gives quick relief of symptoms as the airways open wider. These are also known as 'bronchodilator' inhalers as they dilate (widen) the airways (the bronchi). You use these inhalers 'as required' if symptoms develop..
    • Preventer inhalers reduce inflammation. The drug in most preventer inhalers is a steroid. You use these inhalers regularly each day to prevent symptoms from occurring.
    • Long acting bronchodilator inhalers work in a similar way to 'relievers', but work for up to 12 hours after taking each dose. One may be needed if symptoms are not fully prevented by the preventer inhaler alone. (Some brands of inhaler contain a steroid plus a long acting bronchodilator for convenience.)
  • Most people with asthma should take a regular preventer inhaler. The aim is to prevent symptoms so that you can get on with a normal life.
  • You may need a short course of steroid tablets now and then to treat a bad attack of asthma. Steroids reduce inflammation.
  • You should not smoke.
  • Make sure you know:
    • how to take your inhalers.
    • which is your reliever inhaler, and which is your preventer inhaler.
    • what to do if symptoms get worse.









Your asthma symptoms are controlled if:

  • You are able to work and play normally.
  • You do not have any regular symptoms of cough, wheeze, chest tightness or breathlessness (day or night).
  • You need your reliever inhaler less than three times per week (not including before doing exercise).
  • Your peak flow is above 80% of your personal best.



However if:

  • You start to get a cold or viral cough.
  • You have a mild but recurring wheeze, cough, or chest tightness during the day or night.
  • You need to use a reliever more than three times per week (not including before doing exercise).
  • Your peak flow is reduced to between 50% and 80% of your personal best


You might need to increase your preventer inhaler use and come to see the asthma nurse or doctor within the next week.


If your asthma symptoms are getting more severe

  • If your wheeze, cough or tight chest are getting worse.
  • You have difficulty doing your normal activities because of asthma symptoms.
  • You are breathless which does not fully ease with a reliever inhaler.
  • You need to use a reliever every three hours or more.
  • You wake up most nights with wheeze, cough or chest tightness.
  • Your peak flow is below 50% of your personal best


If you have a supply of oral steroids for emergency use then start them and also

see your doctor or nurse within the next 24 hours, or immediately if you get worse


If your asthma symptoms are very severe

  • You are very breathless.
  • You have difficulty speaking because of asthma symptoms.
  • Your lips are blue.

This is an emergency.
Contact a doctor urgently.
If a doctor is not available go straight to hospital accident and emergency. (Call an ambulance if necessary.)

Whilst waiting for help:

  • Sit upright and try to stay calm.


  • Take from 2 to 10 puffs from a reliever inhaler, preferably via a spacer, inhaling after each single puff. Repeat every 10 to 30 minutes, depending on how severe the symptoms are.




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