Frequently asked questions

Got a question about asthma? Find answers quickly here. And links to more information.

Understanding asthma

Asthma attacks

Asthma medicines and treatments

 Living with asthma


Understanding asthma 

How do you get asthma? 

It's difficult to say for sure why someone gets asthma, but we do know you’re more likely to develop asthma if there’s a history of asthma, eczema or allergies in your family. Or if you already have eczema or allergies (for example hay fever) yourself.

There are other reasons why you might be more at risk of getting asthma too, such as being born prematurely, or if your mother smoked while she was pregnant. 

You can read more about the causes here.

Does asthma go away?

Some children do ‘grow out of’ their asthma symptoms. But they might come back later in life. They might be set off by something at work, or by pollution. Women sometimes develop asthma during the menopause.

There’s no cure for asthma, so it doesn’t go away completely. But there are tried and tested asthma medicines to prevent symptoms.

This means that most people with asthma, if they’re sticking to their prescribed medicines, can get on with their lives without asthma symptoms getting in the way.

Find out more about keeping asthma symptoms under control here

Will my child get asthma because I’ve got it?

If you’ve got asthma yourself, or your partner has, it could mean your child is more likely to get it too.

If only one parent has asthma, there's more chance of it being passed on if it's the mother.

There’s not much you can do about this; it’s not your fault. It’s just because asthma tends to run in families.

One thing you can do something about, if you’re pregnant, is not smoke. And once the baby is born, make sure no one smokes around them. Smoking puts your baby at much higher risk of developing asthma, or other problems with their breathing.

Find out more about what causes asthma here.  

What makes asthma worse?

There are lots of things that can make asthma worse, but not everyone will be affected by the same things.

Finding out what sets off your symptoms (your triggers) - whether it's colds and virusespetspollen, house dust mites or mould - 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, even when you feel well. 

Your preventer medicine, taken in the right way, protects your airways so they’re less inflamed. It stops you reacting as much to your usual triggers even if you do come across them. 

Find out more about coping with your asthma triggers here

Asthma attacks

How do I know when I’m having an asthma attack?

You’ll know you’re having an asthma attack if you notice:

  • you’re coughing, feeling breathless, wheezing or your chest is tight
  • your breathing is faster and you feel like you can’t get a breath in properly
  • it’s difficult to speak, eat or sleep because you’re too breathless
  • your reliever inhaler doesn’t seem to be helping much

Find out more about how you can cut your risk of an asthma attack here

What do I do if I have an asthma attack?

If you have an asthma attack, stay safe by following our asthma attack advice:

  1. Sit up - don't lie down. Try to keep calm.
  2. Take one puff of your reliever inhaler (usually blue) every 30-60 seconds. You can keep taking one puff up to a maximum of 10 puffs over 10 minutes.
  3. If you feel worse at any point while you're using your inhaler, or you don't feel better after 10 puffs, or you're worried at any time, call 999 for an ambulance. Don’t be afraid of causing a fuss, even at night.
  4. If the ambulance is taking longer than 15 minutes you can repeat step 2.

IMPORTANT! This asthma attack information is not designed for people on a SMART or MART regime. If you are on a SMART or MART regime, please speak to your GP or asthma nurse to get the correct asthma attack information.

Can you die from an asthma attack?

Although most people who have an asthma attack get help and get well, people can and do die from asthma attacks. The shocking fact is that asthma attacks kill three people every day.

But studies show that two out of three asthma deaths could be prevented with better routine care.

You can cut your risk by taking your asthma medicines as prescribed, even if you feel well.

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

How can I stop an asthma attack happening?

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

Asthma medicines and treatments

What medicines do I need to take for my asthma?

Most people with asthma are prescribed two inhalers – a reliever inhaler which is usually blue. And a preventer inhaler, often brown.

The reliever inhaler deals quickly with symptoms when they happen. You should keep your reliever inhaler handy so it’s always there when you need it. It can be a life-saver in an asthma attack. But it doesn’t deal with the underlying inflammation.

The preventer inhaler is the one you need to take every day, even when you’re feeling well. It keeps down the inflammation in your airways.

When your airways are inflamed you’re more likely to get symptoms like coughing and wheezing when you’re around your asthma triggers. So, getting into a routine with your preventer is a good idea.

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.

Do I have to take inhalers for the rest of my life?

Asthma is a long-term condition, so you do need to carry on treating it to keep symptoms away.

Your asthma preventer inhaler, taken every day as prescribed, stops inflammation in your airways. It works in the background to keep symptoms away. And if you go for regular asthma reviews you can make sure you’re on the lowest dose possible to control your symptoms.

If your asthma’s well managed, and you’ve had no symptoms for three months, your doctor may say you can cut down your treatment. You may be able to stop the preventer inhaler and just have a reliever inhaler for when symptoms come on.

But you’ll still need to keep an eye on things and go straight back to your GP if you notice you’re getting symptoms, or you’re using your reliever inhaler more often. 

Will I get side effects from my asthma inhalers?

There are some side-effects you may get from your inhalers, but they’re mild and not everyone will get them.

  • Your reliever may make your heartbeat speed up, or you might feel a bit shaky after using it. But this will only last a few minutes.
  • Your preventer may give you a sore throat, or oral thrush. You can prevent side-effects from your preventer inhaler by using a spacer. Brushing your teeth or rinsing out your mouth also helps.

Do asthma steroids have side effects?

The steroid medicines used to treat asthma are very similar to the steroid we produce naturally in our bodies.

Preventer inhalers have a small amount of steroid medicine in them. This is unlikely to cause side effects because the medicine is breathed in - it gets straight down into your airways and very little is absorbed into the rest of the body.

A short course of steroid tablets, taken for no longer than three weeks, is unlikely to cause problem side effects.

You may be more at risk of side effects from the steroids in your asthma medicines if:

  • you're taking higher doses of steroids in your preventer inhaler
  • you're taking steroid tablets for longer than three weeks
  • you've stopped taking steroid tablets suddenly - you need to come off them gradually to avoid side effects
  • you’ve needed three or four courses of steroid tablets in a year.

If you’re worried, your doctor can help you weigh up the benefits and risks. And if you do experience any side effects, ask your GP or asthma nurse for advice on how to deal with them.

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

Get help with your concerns about asthma medicines

Is it safe to take asthma medicines when I’m pregnant?

Most asthma medicines are safe to use in pregnancy.  Your GP can weigh up the risks and benefits of your usual asthma medicine. There are more risks to both you and your baby if you don't take your medicines and your asthma gets worse.

One group of medicines called leukotriene receptor antagonists (for example Montelukast and Zafirlukast) would not normally be started during pregnancy.

But if you were taking one of these before you got pregnant and it was working well for your asthma, your GP or asthma nurse will weigh up what's best for you and your baby. They’ll probably advise you to continue taking it to help you stay well with your asthma.

You can read more about asthma and pregnancy here

Is it safe to take asthma medicines when I’m breastfeeding?

It's safe to breastfeed your baby when you're taking asthma medicines. Only very small amounts of asthma medicine pass through into the breast milk. And this won’t cause any risk to your baby.

Also, your asthma medicines won’t affect your ability to make breast milk.

Some research suggests that breastfeeding may help reduce the chance of babies developing asthma.

You can read more about asthma and pregnancy, giving birth and breastfeeding here

What’s hay fever got to do with asthma?

A lot of people with asthma also have hay fever – about 80 per cent. And hay fever can make your asthma worse.

So taking anti-histamine hay fever treatments for your hay fever will help cut your risk of asthma symptoms getting worse too.

Find out more about dealing with hay fever.

Should I get an air purifier, ioniser or dehumidifier?

Some people tell us having an air filter or air purifier helps them with their asthma symptoms triggered by dust mites or mould. But they can't remove all allergens and even a few left behind can trigger asthma symptoms.

Using purifiers or dehumidifiers to avoid triggers on their own is unlikely to remove the problem completely; managing your asthma well with asthma medicines, using an asthma action plan and seeing your GP or asthma nurse regularly will have far more benefits.

Asthma guidelines don’t recommend the use of ionisers. There’s no evidence to show they improve symptoms, and they’ve been shown to make night time coughing worse.

You can read more about indoor air quality here

Where can I get a nebuliser?

You only need to use a nebuliser at home if your consultant or asthma specialist recommends one. For example, if you have severe asthma you might be recommended a nebuliser to use at home.

Some hospitals may lend out nebulisers in certain circumstances, but many don’t. If you need to buy one, make sure you buy from a reliable, well-known, manufacturer so you can be sure of the quality of the nebuliser you buy.

Ask your doctor for advice so you know which one is right for your needs, where you can get one, how to use it, and how you need to take care of it. For example, you’ll need to get it serviced regularly.

You can find out more about nebulisers and when they are appropriate for use at home here

Can I get the flu jab if I have asthma?

The flu jab is free of charge on the NHS to people who are at risk of developing complications from having flu. This includes anyone with asthma on regular inhaled steroids.

Find out more about this year’s flu jab and how it can help you and your asthma here.    

What home remedies are good for asthma?

We know that some people find home remedies or complementary therapies help them with their asthma. But many are not backed up by sound scientific evidence to say they work, or that they’re safe. 
Any home remedy should never replace your regular asthma medicines. And it’s always a good idea to check with your GP or asthma nurse before trying a new complementary therapy.

Find out more about complementary therapies that may help with asthma here.

Living with asthma

Is it OK to exercise with asthma?

If you’re looking after your asthma well, and your symptoms are under control, it’s OK to exercise. In fact, exercise can help you manage your asthma better and cut your risk of asthma symptoms.

If you’re worried about asthma symptoms coming on when you exercise, talk it through with your GP or asthma nurse.

They can check you’re on the right asthma medicines, taking your inhalers in the right way, and using an up-to-date written asthma action plan.

They might be able to recommend suitable activities for you, based on your overall health and how your asthma’s been recently.

Find out more about exercising safely with asthma here

Is it safe to fast if I have asthma?

Although fasting itself is unlikely to cause any problems for your asthma, changing the way you take your asthma medicines might.

If you’re planning a fast which is going to change the way you take your asthma medicines, get advice from your doctor first.

Your GP may be able to suggest different ways to take your medicine, or support you in adjusting the times, so you don’t need to take your medicines in daylight hours.

What foods are bad for asthma?

Most people with asthma can eat any foods. But if you’re allergic to any food you need to be extra careful.

There's some evidence that if you have both asthma and a food allergy, you may be at greater risk of having an asthma attack that's life-threatening, so it's important to strictly avoid the food.

You should also make sure your asthma is well managed, to lower your risk of having an asthma attack.

Find out more about food allergies here

Why has the doctor told me to lose weight to help my asthma?

If your doctor has recommended you lose weight, it’s because your asthma symptoms are likely to improve if you do. There’s evidence that losing weight can lead to fewer symptoms and less use of asthma medicines.

Even a small amount of weight loss can bring benefits; losing just five per cent of your weight can make a difference. You’re likely to feel less breathless for example.

Find out more about losing weight and the difference it can make to your asthma.

How can I give up smoking?

Giving up smoking is great for your asthma. And your asthma medicines will work better too.

If you’ve decided to quit smoking, there’s plenty of support out there to help you stick to your plan. Your GP, asthma nurse or pharmacist can support and advise you about how to get started on your stop smoking plan and put you in touch with local NHS Stop Smoking Services. You're much more likely to give up and stay away from smoking if you have support.

Get more information on stop smoking treatments

Will asthma affect my holiday insurance?

You do need to let your insurance company know about your asthma - all travel insurance policies require you to disclose any information about any existing or pre-existing conditions. If you don’t do this, the insurance company may not pay out if you make a claim.

Different insurance companies have different policies for people with health conditions, so it’s a good idea to shop around to find the best deal for you. The quote you get will depend on how old you are, the medicines you take, where you’re travelling to, and any other conditions you have as well as your asthma.

Find out more about travelling with asthma


Can I get any benefits for asthma?

You may be able to get some financial help for your asthma. For example, some people with asthma can get free prescriptions.

If you have severe asthma you may be entitled to more benefits.

Find out more about the benefits and financial help you may be able to get.  


Do you have any easy-to-read information about asthma?

Yes. We have 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 to make the information easier to understand.

 
Do you have asthma information in other languages?

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

Need more answers?  You can talk to one of our friendly asthma nurse specialists on 0300 222 5800, Mon-Fri, 9am- 5pm.

Or you can chat with our asthma nurses team via WhatsApp on 07378 606 728.

 

 Last reviewed July 2018

Next review due July 2021