The number of people going to their GPs with asthma has doubled over the past two decades. This condition causes 2,000 deaths a year in the UK, amongst the country’s 5 million asthma sufferers.
Asthma is a disorder where the small airways in the lungs become narrowed, making breathing more difficult. The effect is best described as trying to breath in and out through a straw! During an attack, it is difficult to get your breath, you wheeze a lot, and any resulting panic makes the condition worse. You cough to try and dislodge the sticky phlegm in the tubes, but the coughing makes you more short of breath.
Despite effective modern treatments, asthma is on the increase and this is thought to be due to environmental pollution.
In particular, diesel fumes and the colourless nitrogen oxide gases from lead free petrol, make the lung’s airways very ‘twitchy’ and sensitive to other substances in the atmosphere, such as dust, pollens, perfumes, insecticides etc.
* Anyone with only a night time cough could have asthma.
* Asthma affects 1 in 5 children, and is twice as common in boys.
* It’s more common in families which have hay fever, eczema and other allergies.
* It’s more common in children who are exposed to dusty atmospheres, cow’s milk and eggs in their first year of life.
* It’s more common in the children of parents who smoke.
* It’s less common in breast fed babies
* Over 50% of asthmatic children grow out of it completely
* Asthma can start at any age
Various ‘triggers’ can set off an asthma attack:
*colds and flu
*allergies – especially to the house dust mites
*feathers in pillows and duvets
*exertion such as running and swimming
*fear or worry
*fumes such as those caused by paint and petrol
*pollution and perfumes
*certain foods such as peanuts
*food colourants such as tartrazine
*even certain drugs such as aspirin, beta blockers and anti-inflammatory drugs used for arthritis
The House Dust Mite.
The commonest cause of asthma is allergy to the droppings of the house dust mite! This mite is a tiny insect, invisible to our eyes, which lives in dust and feeds on the minute scales of human skin which are shed from our bodies. So, as far as the house dust mite is concerned, your mattress is heavenly. It’s warm, comfortable and,for 8 hours every day, a fresh supply of food showers down upon it!
There are between 2 and 5 million mites living in your mattress now! The mites also live in pillows, carpets, curtains and soft furniture.
What You Can Do
Total elimination of the house dust mite is impossible, but measures to reduce it’s numbers are effective. Using a normal domestic ‘hoover’, unfortunately, causes vast clouds of house dust mite to be propelled into the air, making asthma worse. A special cleaner ‘Medivac’, though more expensive, does reduce house dust mite levels. Further information from: Medivac, Freepost, Wilmslow, Cheshire SK9 5YE.
Where possible use lino instead of carpeting, and synthetic carpeting instead of wool.
Wrapping the mattress in polythene to seal in the mite can help. The bed manufacturers ‘Slumberland’, have produced a special cover for mattress, pillow and duvet, made from a material similar to ‘Gore tex,’ the rainproof material, which prevents the mite and it’s droppings getting through! Details from Slumberland Medicare Ltd, Bee Mill, Shaw Rd, Royton, Oldham OL2 6EH.
A simple instrument called a ‘peak flow meter’, available on prescription, can show how narrowed the airways are. Regular self assessment with this can warn of impending deterioration, and so help the patient in planning their medication. Three main types of drugs are used:
1. Broncodilators: these dilate or open up the airways.
2. Anti allergics: prevent the airways from narrowing.
3. Steroids: these stop inflammation in the airways, reduce phlegm production and reduce the ‘twitchiness’ of the airways. Inhaled steroids are of a low dose and are safe.
All are available as inhalers Some deliver a fine spray and others a fine powder. Some are breath actuated, and others are fitted with a whistle to encourage children to use it the right way!
All inhalers must be used exactly as recommended by the doctor, as the key to asthma control rests in correct inhaler technique. Adrian Moorhouse, the Olympic gold medallist in swimming, has had asthma from the age of 7, but he doesn’t suffer from it, because he uses his treatment correctly and regularly.
Exercise induced asthma can be prevented by taking a couple of puffs of the bronchodilator, 10 minutes before exercise or sport. This simple step could transform a child’s life at school, and, with his playmates. No asthmatic should be classed as an invalid and exercise is good for your child. Swimming is especially good, for the warm moist air of a swimming pool causes less irritation to the sensitive airways than the cold dry air of the outside atmosphere.