Your GP and asthma nurse will regularly review your asthma and give ongoing support to manage it. But they can also refer you to services that can help with your asthma such as stop smoking, weight loss support or allergy testing.
Here’s how you can work with your GP or asthma nurse to get a referral that could make a real difference to your asthma.
NHS services your GP can refer you to for asthma help
Stop smoking support
Smoking is one of the biggest risk factors for asthma as it inflames your airways and makes them more likely to react to asthma triggers. We also know that asthma medicines work less well for smokers compared with non-smokers, so if you smoke it’s going to be much harder to manage your symptoms. It can be hard to give up smoking, but the effort will pay off in fewer asthma symptoms.
The good news is that evidence shows you’re much more likely to quit successfully if you make use of NHS Stop Smoking services to get support and advice on finding the safest and most effective stop smoking treatments for you. All GP surgeries can signpost you to an expert advisor for ongoing stop smoking support and advice.
“My first port of call was the NHS Stop Smoking service and I got tablets as an aid. I managed to give up for about six months. I did fail at the first and second attempts, but by the third attempt I managed to kick the habit and I’ve been free of cigarettes for over three years. I now find breathing is easier in the morning and I can walk generally without problem.” – David Pierce
Weight loss support services
Being overweight puts you at higher risk of developing asthma symptoms, and will make managing your asthma much harder. Your GP can measure your Body Mass Index (BMI) to see if you’re at a healthy weight or not. If you’re not, your GP can help you look at what you eat and how much you exercise, and can also help you set some simple goals for losing weight.
They can refer you to a local weight loss support group or fitness classes. Here you can get friendly advice and support on how to kick-start your weight loss journey. Losing a bit of weight can make a difference to how breathless you feel and how much energy you have, and cuts your risk of asthma symptoms and an asthma attack.
James Cato, a sports therapist specialising in working with people who have asthma, says: “I always encourage people with asthma to find their limits and exercise to them regularly so that we can push back their barriers. If someone is new to exercise, the first thing we’ll work on is how to deal with an asthma attack – recognising the signs, not panicking, getting their breathing under control and using their inhaler correctly. Once they’re confident in that, we can try more intense exercises.”
Allergy advice and treatment
Asthma and allergies often go together, and research shows that some allergies can make asthma symptoms worse. So if you think you have an allergy, for example to food or pollen, it’s worth asking for more advice.
Sometimes it’s obvious what’s triggering your symptoms, for example, if you’re allergic to a cat. In this case your GP or asthma nurse is unlikely to refer you for allergy testing but instead will focus on ways you can stay on top of your symptoms.
But in cases where it’s unclear what’s triggering your symptoms an allergy test can sometimes be useful. The most common types of allergy testing are blood tests or skin prick tests. These can find out whether you have an allergy to specific allergens (substances that causes an allergic response). Your GP can arrange a blood test for you, or refer you for a skin prick test, mostly carried out in hospital outpatient clinics.
If the allergy tests come back and you’re allergic to a specific thing, you can work with your healthcare team to avoid that trigger to help you manage your asthma better. For example, if you have an allergy to pollen, write this down in your asthma action plan so that when hay fever season comes round, you and your GP or asthma nurse can be on the case with treatments such as antihistamines and nasal sprays to reduce your likelihood of getting symptoms.
Specialist asthma care
If your asthma’s difficult to control even though you’re taking your medicines as prescribed, you may be able to make a case for specialist care. If you get a referral, you could be referred to a specialist GP, nurse or consultant either in hospital or a local clinic, or to a specialist asthma care centre.
How to ask for a referral
There’s no need to feel uncomfortable about asking for a referral. If you’re finding it difficult to manage your symptoms, your GP or asthma nurse will want to support you in accessing other NHS services so you can get the best care available.
“It’s always good to hear people taking an interest in what they can do to get better. I’d encourage patients to let their GP or practice nurse know if they want more help with giving up smoking or losing weight,” says Dr Andy Whittamore, Asthma UK’s in-house GP.
If you’d like more advice about asking for a referral to other NHS services, call the Asthma UK Helpline on 0300 222 5800 (Monday-Friday, 9am-5pm) to speak to one of our friendly asthma nurses, or message them via WhatsApp on 07378 606 728. They will be able to answer any questions you have about getting a referral, and advise you about what other services you can access through your GP.
Waiting times for an NHS referral
Your GP or asthma nurse will be able to tell you the average waiting times of local NHS services in your area and, if need be, recommend other hospitals and clinics where waiting times may be shorter.
Waiting times for NHS services can vary depending on the type of service you’ve been referred for and your catchment area. You can find out more about NHS waiting times here.
How to help your asthma while you’re waiting for a referral
Waiting a while before your referral appointment? We’ve got some ideas how you can give yourself a head start in making a real difference to your asthma care:
- Read up on it. Whether you want to find out more about how smoking affects your asthma or how losing weight can help improve your symptoms, we’ve got lots of expert tips and advice.
- Keep an asthma symptom diary and take it with you to your appointment so you can show your healthcare team how your asthma’s been. If you keep on recording your symptoms when you start cutting down on smoking or lose weight, you’ll start to see improvements.
- Talk to family and friends and tell them what you’re planning so you can make the most of their support. Having a ‘buddy’ can make a real difference so consider whether there’s anyone who can give up smoking or lose weight with you.
- Look forward to rewards. Start thinking about what you’ll give yourself as a reward once you achieve your new healthy goals. For example, if you’re quitting smoking, you could start saving the money you’d usually spend on cigarettes and put it towards a day out.
- Keep up good asthma routines. Make sure you’re doing everything you can to manage your asthma well on a daily basis.
Last updated August 2019
Next review due August 2022