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Asthma: I’ve been diagnosed, what now?

Written by Healthwords's team of doctors and pharmacists based in UK | Updated: 24.02.2023 | 3 min read

Asthma is a long-term condition causing inflammation of the airways. Most people have a mild form, and symptoms are kept at bay through regular medication to reduce inflammation. Occasionally people get flare-ups, where symptoms come back, which may require stronger treatment.

Once you are on the proper treatment for you, and you have an asthma plan that tells you when to increase or decrease doses, most people go on to lead an everyday life – able to exercise, work and enjoy family life.

What's the treatment?

You will be prescribed two inhalers. The first is a rescue inhaler, albuterol. This is called a reliever, as it temporarily widens your airways to reduce the feeling of chest tightness and breathlessness. Its effect lasts for a couple of hours. You can take two puffs of this up to four times a day – it can be more effective if taken via a spacer. Your doctor, practice nurse, or pharmacist can show you how.

The second inhaler is known as a preventer, as it reduces inflammation in the long term, altering the course of your asthma. This reduces daily symptoms, flare-ups, and reliance on your reliever inhaler. The preventer inhaler can come in a multitude of colors and ways to activate it, according to your preference and how severe your asthma is.

These inhalers should be on your refill list, so you can request them to be prescribed again before you run out.

When should I see my doctor?

Your doctor will arrange reviews every few weeks after diagnosis until you are on the right treatment and you feel more comfortable. You should expect no symptoms overnight, be able to manage your usual daily activities and job, and you should be needing your reliever inhaler less than three times per week.

Once stabilized, you will be given a written asthma plan, so you are aware of symptoms of a flare-up and can increase your treatment or increase if you anticipate being in an environment that worsens your asthma (you are somewhere dusty, with pets, it’s winter or you have a chest infection).

You should see your doctor urgently if symptoms are severe or persist despite increasing treatment according to your asthma plan. You should look out for four key symptoms: chest tightness, feeling short of breath, a cough, or a wheeze (a high-pitched sound when you breathe out).

With well-controlled asthma, you have a check-up at least once a year with your doctor or practice nurse, and they will assess symptoms and peak flow readings.

Am I allowed to exercise?

The short answer is yes! Asthma treatment aims to allow you to lead as normal and fulfilled a life as possible. Exercise keeps us all healthy, but it’s a great way of keeping your lung tissue elastic and blood and oxygen flowing to nourish the lungs.

Exercise may not be the trigger, but it’s where you’re exercising, so cold air, pollen, or pollution if outdoors, or a dusty environment if indoors. If exercise is a trigger, you may need to take albuterol pre-emptively prior to your session and afterward if symptoms occur. Your doctor may also suggest increasing the dose of your preventer inhaler.

Sex is also a form of exercise, increasing your breathing and heart rate, and there’s no reason asthma should get in the way of this if it’s well-controlled – just apply the same rules of having your albuterol inhaler nearby and seeing your doctor if you are over-relying on your inhaler or symptoms persist.

Is there anything I can do to keep well?

Knowledge is everything, so the more you know about your condition and your specific triggers, the better. The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) is a good source of information. Ensuring you stick to your asthma plan and continue daily inhalers as advised is also going to benefit you. In time, you will learn to step up and step-down medication according to your symptoms and anticipate triggers.

We all know that smoking has no positive health benefits. Still, it can be detrimental for people living with asthma – ask your doctor about stop smoking services, and encourage anyone in your household to kick the habit.

Asthma often goes alongside hay fever – try over-the-counter remedies for your hay fever, and see your doctor if these aren’t strong enough. Pollen can trigger asthma in itself, but having hay fever well-controlled will help keep your asthma under control.

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