Frequently asked questions

Find answers to common questions and concerns about asthma.

Common concerns

Common questions

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Common Concerns

Can you die from an asthma attack?

Every 10 seconds someone in the UK is having what could be a life-threatening asthma attack. Although most people who have an asthma attack get help and get well, the shocking fact is that asthma attacks kill three people each day. The UK has some of the highest death rates from asthma in Europe.

On a more positive note, it is estimated that two-thirds of asthma related deaths are preventable with better routine care. Taking your asthma medicines as prescribed is the best way to prevent asthma symptoms and cut your risk of an asthma attack.

Also, if you use a written action asthma plan you're four times less likely to end up in hospital due to your asthma.

I have asthma and I’m pregnant – will my baby have asthma too?

We don't know the exact cause of asthma, but we do know that asthma often runs in families. Your baby is more at risk of developing asthma or breathing problems if:

If only one parent has asthma, the baby has a greater chance of developing asthma if it's the mother.

Are steroids in asthma medicine safe?

Lots of people with asthma are prescribed asthma medicine containing steroids. Many preventer inhalers - the inhaler you take every day - contain a very low dose of steroids. Your preventer inhaler helps to reduce inflammation in your airways so you'll be less likely to react to your triggers, and be less at risk of an asthma attack.

If your asthma symptoms get worse, or you have an asthma attack, your GP or asthma nurse may give you a short course of steroid tablets (called prednisolone). These contain a higher dose of steroids to reduce your risk of a potentially life-threatening asthma attack.

Some people worry about taking steroids, often because of the long list of possible side effects.

It's reassuring to know that the low dose of steroids in a preventer inhaler is unlikely to cause side effects. This is because the medicine is breathed in - it gets straight down into your airways and very little is absorbed into the rest of the body.

Also, short, occasional courses of steroid tablets taken for no longer than three weeks are very unlikely to cause troublesome side effects.

If you're taking higher doses of steroids in your preventer inhaler, or you're taking steroid tablets for longer than three months, or three or four courses of steroid tablets in a year, your doctor can help you weigh up the benefits and risks.

And if you do experience any side effects, more often than not there are ways to deal with them - ask your GP or asthma nurse for advice.

Or you can call our Helpline on 0300 222 5800 (9am to 5pm; Mon to Fri) to speak to one of our friendly asthma nurse specialists.

Do asthma medicines restrict growth?

Studies show a link between inhaled steroids and reduced growth in children. But it's a very small reduction in height - less than a centimetre overall.The benefits of taking asthma medicines far outweigh the risks, especially as poorly controlled asthma can itself affect growth.

If your child is taking inhaled steroids, your GP or asthma nurse will always prescribe the lowest dose possible to keep their symptoms under control. And they can monitor your child's height and weight at least once a year at their asthma review. 

It's worth remembering that if your child takes their preventer inhaler as prescribed it's the best way to cut their risk of symptoms and asthma attacks. And it can mean they need to take fewer courses of steroid tablets overall, because they're managing their asthma well on an every day basis.

If you're worried, speak to your GP or asthma nurse about your concerns.

Do asthma medicines cause osteoporosis?

The long-term use of steroids has been linked to a risk of thinning bones (reduced bone density). At your annual asthma review, your GP or asthma nurse can talk to you about your individual risk and what you can do to lower it.

These include:

  • getting plenty of exercise
  • eating well, including lots of foods rich in calcium (leafy green vegetables, dried fruit, tofu, yoghurt) and vitamin D (eggs, milk, oily fish)
  • giving up smoking
  • avoiding too much alcohol.

You can get more information and advice from the National Osteoporosis Society.

Do asthma medicines have side effects?

Like all prescription drugs, there is a risk of side effects when you take asthma medicines. What's reassuring is that most people who take them won't experience all of the side effects, or even any.

And you'll only ever be prescribed a medicine if the benefits outweigh the risks. If you feel worried about anything or have concerns about your medicines, speak to your GP or asthma nurse.

I have asthma. Is it safe to fast?

Fasting is often carried out for religious reasons, and involves avoiding some or all food, drink, or both, for a period of time.

It's a good idea to discuss your plans for fasting with your doctor or asthma nurse before making any decisions to change the way you take your asthma medicines. Don't stop taking your asthma medicine without speaking to your doctor first.

Your GP or asthma nurse can tell you whether or not it's possible to adjust your medicine to suit your plans during your fast. For example, change your prescription to a long-acting preventer medicine, or change the times when you take your medicines so you don't need to take them during daylight hours.

There is little to suggest that fasting itself causes problems if you have asthma. But if you have adjusted your medicines for fasting and you begin to feel worse, please see your doctor or asthma nurse as soon as you can.

Do asthma attacks damage lungs?

If you have frequent asthma attacks, your airways can become scarred and narrower. This is sometimes called 'airway remodelling'. If this happens, it means that less air can move through your airways and your symptoms (and asthma attacks) may become worse and/or more frequent.

The best way to prevent this kind of damage to your lungs is to give up smoking, and take your preventer inhaler and any other medicines as prescribed.

And if you notice your symptoms are getting worse, book an appointment to see your GP or asthma nurse as soon as possible so that you can review your treatment.

Common Questions

How is asthma treated?

When you're first diagnosed with asthma, your GP or asthma nurse will prescribe treatment depending on how often you’re having asthma symptoms and how bad your symptoms are.

The good news is there are lots of safe and effective medicines available. The aim of treatment is for you to stay symptom-free. If you take your medicines exactly as prescribed, the chances are that your condition won't stop you from getting on with your life.

Everyone with asthma needs a reliever inhaler to deal with symptoms when they happen. Many triggers for asthma symptoms are unpredictable so it’s best to be prepared. 

If you get very mild symptoms very occasionally (for example if you unexpectedly come into contact with a trigger) your GP might consider it safe for you just to have a reliever inhaler. 

But most people with asthma should take a preventer inhaler every day too. This reduces the inflammation that causes symptoms when you come into contact with one of your asthma triggers.

If you’re still having symptoms even though you’re taking your preventer inhaler every day as prescribed your GP might prescribe you a Leukotriene Receptor Antagonist (LTRA) tablet to take every day alongside your usual preventer inhaler. Or consider a different kind of inhaler called a combination inhaler.

What triggers asthma attacks?

Everyone with asthma has different things that set their asthma symptoms off (triggers).

Finding out which triggers set off your symptoms - whether it's colds and virusespetspollen, or house dust mites - means you can work out ways to avoid them if possible.

But the best way to cope with your asthma triggers is to always take your preventer medicine as prescribed. 

What happens after an asthma attack?

After you've had an asthma attack, it can take a while for your body to get back to normal. You may feel more tired or stressed than usual, or you may find it difficult to get to sleep at night.

It's also not unusual to feel a range of different emotions - perhaps you feel frightened that you might have another attack, guilty for worrying your family, and/or down about having a long term condition that's getting in the way of things.

It's very important that you get a follow-up appointment after you've had an asthma attack. This should be within two working days if you've been in hospital. 

If you had an asthma attack, but you didn't go to hospital or a walk-in centre, it's still important for you to book an appointment so your GP or asthma nurse can see how you're doing and help you manage your asthma in the best way possible. 

One in six people who receive emergency treatment for an asthma attack need emergency treatment again within two weeks. Find out how you can cut your risk here. 

You can also speak to one of our experienced asthma nurse specialists on our Helpline on 0300 222 5800 (Mon to Fri; 9am to 5pm).

What’s the best way to avoid asthma attacks?

There are lots of things you can do to help reduce your risk of an asthma attack:

Can you have an asthma attack if you’ve got mild asthma?

Yes. Although you're more likely to have an asthma attack if you've got moderate or severe asthma, you can still have a potentially life-threatening asthma attack if you've got mild asthma.

That's why it’s important to take your asthma medicines exactly as prescribed even if you're not getting any symptoms, or you're getting very few and/or mild symptoms.

What is severe asthma?

One in 20 people with asthma has severe asthma. They have symptoms that are much harder to control because they don't improve with the usual asthma medicines even when they're taken as prescribed. You can find out more about severe asthma here.

What’s the link between asthma, eczema and hay fever?

Eczema is a condition that causes the skin to become itchy, red, dry and cracked. It occurs more often in people who get allergies.

Hay fever is an allergy to pollen, a tiny powder-like substance produced by certain types of trees, grasses and weeds, and causes symptoms such as a runny nose, sneezing and itching.

Allergic asthma, eczema and hay fever are known as 'atopic conditions'. If you're atopic, it means your body produces a certain type of antibody in response to allergens such as pollen, moulds and dust mites.

If you're atopic, you could have one, two or all three of the conditions. For example, 80% of people with asthma also have hay fever.

If you have family members who are atopic, you're more likely to develop asthma. Speak to your GP or asthma nurse if you have any questions about any of these conditions.

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Can I call Asthma UK for advice?

Asthma UK's Helpline number is 0300 222 5800. You can speak, in confidence, to one of our friendly asthma nurse specialists Monday to Friday from 9am to 5pm.

English isn’t my first language. Is there information about asthma available anywhere that’s easy to understand?

We've translated our asthma action plan into 11 different languages.

We've also put together some easy-to-understand information about asthma especially for people with learning disabilities or for people who don't speak English as a first language. They're easy to read and contain lots of pictures so the information is easier to understand.

You might find it helpful to speak to one of the asthma nurse specialists on our Helpline on 0300 222 5800,  Mon to Fri, 9am to 5pm.

Last reviewed February 2018

Next review due October 2019