NICHS | Asthma for Teens and Young Adults
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Asthma for Teens and Young Adults

Are you a teenager or young adult with Asthma?


Did you know 14-24 year olds are the age group most at risk of having a fatal asthma attack?

When you think of your asthma, you might think it's just a bit of an annoying cough or wheeze now and again, or you might think taking an inhaler is embarrassing and geeky.

But the reality is that every 10 seconds in the UK, someone has a potentially life-threatening asthma attack.

Ignoring your asthma could be a grave mistake.

YOU can help prevent it.

  • Inhalers. Use your preventer every day and carry your reliever everywhere.
  • Make sure you're using proper technique to take your inhalers.
  • Know what to do in the event of an asthma attack.
  • Let others know about your asthma – your school, teachers and other family members or friends should know what to do in the event of an asthma attack.
  • Ensure you have an Asthma Plan, carry it with you or take a photo of it on your phone so you always have it.

It's important that important people in your life know about your asthma and what to do in an emergency.

An asthma attack can strike anywhere, at any time. It could be at school, on a day out, at a sleepover or sports event

Keep reading to find out more about how you can put these steps into action to help prevent an asthma attack.

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Using inhalers correctly

Did you know only 30% of patients know how to use their inhaler correctly?

Make sure you:

  • Take your inhalers when you should be
    • You need to be take your preventer inhaler (usually brown) every day exactly as your doctor has prescribed, even if your asthma seems okay. This will help to build up protection in your airways over time to help prevent asthma attacks.
    • You also need to have access to your reliever inhaler (usually blue) at all times, which means you must take it with you everywhere.
  • Taking your inhalers correctly
    • It's probably likely that you were diagnosed with asthma and prescribed your inhalers at a quick ten or fifteen minute appointment with the Doctor, most likely years ago when you were a little kid. It wouldn't be surprising if you've never felt like you had a chance to fully understand your asthma, learn the correct inhaler technique, or ask any questions.
    • If in doubt, make an appointment with your GP or asthma nurse to go over the correct inhaler technique with you.
    • You can also ask a pharmacist to check your inhaler technique, or ask them any questions you have about the inhalers or any side effects they may have.
    • Check out our asthma videos below or our asthma webinar to find out more about taking your inhalers correctly.
  • Don't rely on relievers
    • Relying on the reliever inhaler and taking it too often, instead of using the preventer inhaler everyday to prevent symptoms, is linked to poor asthma control and an increased risk of severe asthma attacks and hospital admissions.

A lot of films and TV shows show nerdy characters taking their inhalers as the butt of a joke. But taking your inhalers and being aware of what to do if you have an asthma attack is no joke - it could save your life.

Watch our Live Online Asthma Advice Clinic

Watch back our live online asthma clinic for parents and young people.

Our Asthma experts provided information about medications and correct inhaler technique, and how to manage asthma well to prevent asthma attacks.

Joining us were:

  • Professor Mike Shields - recently retired as a paediatric consultant at the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick and NICHS Board Member
  • Dr Dara O'Donoghue - Consultant Paediatrician / Senior Clinical Lecturer, Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children / QUB Centre for Medical Education
  • Barbara Maxwell and Catherine Russell, Clinical Nurse Specialists.

What to do if you have an asthma attack

If you think you're having an asthma attack, you should:

  1. Let people around you know, whether that's your friends, family or a teacher. Don't be afraid or embarrassed to ask for help.
  2. Sit down in an upright, comfortable position. Try to stay calm.
  3. Take one puff of your reliever inhaler (usually blue) as you were taught, using any equipment such as a spacer if you need it. Take one puff every 30 to 60 seconds up to 10 puffs.
  4. If you feel worse at any point, or you do not feel better after 10 puffs, call 999 for an ambulance.
  5. If the ambulance has not arrived after 10 minutes and you don't feel any better, repeat step 2.
  6. If your symptoms are no better after repeating step 2, and the ambulance has still not arrived, contact 999 again immediately.

If you have an asthma attack and don't have your inhaler with you, call 999 immediately.

Make sure you, your family and your friends and teachers know about your asthma and know what to do in the event of an asthma attack.

Making an asthma plan can help with this - read more about this below under 'Preventing Asthma Attacks'.

Remember, a deadly asthma attack can strike any where, any time - at school or college, on a night out, at a friend's house or during a sports event or other activity. Make sure you are prepared and always have your reliever.

Download our Asthma Factsheet

Find out more about asthma below:

    • Asthma is a condition that constricts the airways – the small tubes that carry into and out of the lungs.
    • People with asthma have sensitive airways which react to triggers.
    • When an asthma sufferer comes into contact with one or more of these triggers, the muscles around the walls of the airways tighten and they become narrower, making it harder to breathe. The lining of the airways also becomes inflamed and begins to swell.
    • Asthma symptoms include breathlessness, wheezing, tight chest or a persistent cough – often at night, early in the morning or during/after activity.
    • If you're on the right asthma treatment, your chance of having an attack is greatly reduced.
    • Visit a doctor or asthma nurse at least once a year for a check-up and to discuss your treatment.
  • Signs that you may be having an asthma attack include:

    • coughing, breathless, wheezing or a tight chest and these symptoms are getting worse
    • your reliever inhaler is not helping
    • you're too breathless to speak, eat or sleep
    • your breathing is getting faster and it feels like you can’t catch your breath
    • your peak flow score is lower than normal
    • you may also experience a tummy or chest ache

    The symptoms will not necessarily occur suddenly. In fact, they often come on slowly over a few hours or days.

  • You should see a GP or asthma nurse within 48 hours of leaving hospital, or ideally on the same day if you did not need hospital treatment.

    About 1 in 6 people treated in hospital for an asthma attack need hospital care again within 2 weeks, so it's important to discuss how you can reduce your risk of future attacks.

    Talk to a doctor or nurse about any changes that may need to be made to manage your asthma.

    For example, the dose of your treatment may need to be adjusted or you may need to be shown how to use inhalers correctly.

  • You can help reduce your risk of having an asthma attack.

    • Take all of your medicines as prescribed
    • Have an asthma review with a GP or asthma nurse once a year
    • Visit your GP, asthma nurse or pharmacist to check that your inhaler technique is correct
    • Avoid things that trigger your asthma where you can, such as dust, ash etc.
    • If your asthma symptoms have worsened or you need to use your reliever inhaler more often than usual, don't ignore this - get advice from a GP or asthma nurse.
    • Make sure you know what to do in the event of an asthma attack.
    • Let other's know about your asthma - make sure your school, teachers and other family members or friends and friends' parents are aware and know what to do in the event of an asthma attack. The next point can help with this:
    • Create an asthma plan, ideally with the help of your GP or asthma nurse. Carry this with you, give copies to teachers, family and friends, put a copy in your bag, or take a photo of it on your phone so you always have it. Make sure it includes:
      • which medicines you take
      • what to do if your asthma symptoms are getting worse
      • what to do if you have an asthma attack.
  • As we mentioned above, it's important that other people in your life know about your asthma and what to do in an emergency.

    An asthma attack can strike anywhere, at any time. It could be at school, on a day out, at a sleepover or sports event.

    Making an asthma action plan and showing this to friends, family and teachers who you spend time with is vital - read more about this above.

    A good tip is to take a photo of your action plan on your phone, so you can show or send it to others easily.

  • Asthma videos

    Check out our special Asthma episode of our Video Podcast, Heart to Heart

    This episode is all about asthma, and the potential dangers if it is not managed properly. Our host Sarah Travers speaks to 9 year old Dara about what it’s like living with asthma, and is also joined by Professor Mike Shields, a respiratory paediatrician with many years of experience of researching and treating patients with difficult asthma, and a board member for Northern Ireland Chest Heart and Stroke.

    Check out our videos on:

    • The importance of your preventer inhaler
    • Taking your inhalers correctly
    • What to do if your child has an asthma attack
  • Find out more about Asthma at the following links:

    Find out more about the support we offer for adults living with respiratory conditions like Asthma:

    Find out more about the asthma clinic where Doctor Dara O'Donoghue works:


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