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Asthma: get the facts

Posted by Eamonn Brady on

Asthma is a long-term condition that can cause coughing, wheezing and/or breathlessness. With asthma, the airways become over-sensitive and react to things that would normally not cause a problem, such as cold air, exercise, animal fur, pollen or dust. Muscles around the wall of the airway tighten up. The lining of the airways swells and sticky mucus is produced.


Approximately 470,000 people have asthma in Ireland. Ireland has the fourth highest prevalence of asthma in the world after Australia, New Zealand and the UK. Asthma in children is more common in boys than in girls. Children who develop asthma at a very young age are more likely to 'grow out’ of the condition as they get older.


There is no cure for asthma. Treatment is based on relief of symptoms and preventing future symptoms and attacks. Successful prevention is through a combination of prescription only medication, lifestyle changes and identification and avoiding asthma triggers.


Short-acting beta 2-agonists inhalers work quickly to relieve asthma (eg) Ventolin®inhaler. If an asthmatic needs to use their beta agonist inhaler too regularly (three or more times per week), they should have their therapy reviewed. Excessive use of short-acting relievers has been associated with asthma deaths. This is not the fault of the reliever medication, but is down to the fact that the patient failed to obtain treatment for their worsening asthma symptoms.


Preventer inhalers reduce inflammation in the airways and prevent asthma attacks. The preventer inhaler must be used daily for some time before full benefit is achieved. Preventer inhalers contain an inhaled corticosteroid. (eg) Becotide®inhaler


If short acting beta 2-agonist inhalers and preventer inhalers are not providing sufficient symptom relief, a long-acting reliever (long acting beta 2-agonist) may be tried. Inhalers combining an inhaled steroid and a long-acting bronchodilator (combination inhaler) are more commonly prescribed than long acting beta 2-agonists on their own. (eg) Seretide®, Symbicort®inhalers.


If treatment of asthma is still not successful through use of inhalers alone, options include oral leukotriene receptor antagonists (eg. Singulair®) and oral theophylline (eg. Uniphyllin®, Phyllocontin®). If asthma is still not under control, regular oral corticosteroids may be prescribed.

Asthmatics who are pregnant should manage their asthma in the same way as before pregnancy. Most medicines used for asthma have been proven to be safe to take during pregnancy and when breastfeeding. The exception is leukotriene receptor antagonists (eg. Singulair®).


This article is shortened. More detailed information and leaflets on Asthma is available in Whelehans or at Tel 04493 34591


Disclaimer: Information given is a very general overview of asthma; ensure you consult with your healthcare professional for specific advice


Eamonn Brady is a pharmacist and the owner of Whelehans Pharmacy, Pearse St, Mullingar. If you have any health questions e-mail them to


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