Struggling for breath during an asthma attack can be a deeply alarming experience.
"People tell you not to panic, but they don't know what it's like when you can't breathe. It's the one thing you need to do to exist," is how one person puts it on the Asthma UK website.
Many people with asthma manage it from day to day without incident, using inhalers, but sometimes a sudden worsening in a person's condition can result in blue lights and admission to hospital.
Doctors and nurses will never be able to prevent all such incidents, and cannot be expected to, but a new report from Asthma UK Scotland makes clear that failings in the overall management of patients with asthma is contributing to the number of cases that end up in hospital. Some of those admissions can be attributed to the fact that although people with asthma are supposed to have a written action plan telling them what to do if their symptoms worsen, the majority of such patients do not have one. Those who do not have an asthma action plan are four times more likely to end up in hospital than those with one. The report's authors believe that three-quarters of the 5700 annual hospital admissions caused by serious asthma attacks could be prevented if people with asthma were properly managed and cared for.
If so, those figures represent a fearful amount of unnecessary stress and anxiety for patients who end up in hospital having had a severe asthma attack that might have been tamed or prevented. The hospital itself also incurs the cost of having to cope with an emergency and it is no secret how much pressure hospital Accident & Emergency departments are under, especially during the winter months. Prevention is better for both patients and the NHS, which is why doctors, nurses and health boards must take heed of this report and make efforts to ensure that patients receive action plans and are shown how to use their inhalers properly.
Older patients who have lived with the condition for many years may not be aware that there have been many advances in the field of asthma research in recent years and that a review of their management regime would be beneficial. A proactive approach by GPs and asthma nurses might be required to ensure they have one.
At the same time, patients have a responsibility to seek guidance if they feel unsure about what to do in the event of a serious episode and to use their inhalers according to the regime they have agreed with their doctor.
From time to time, serious attacks will occur even when both a patient and their clinician have done everything they can to avoid it, but more patients could lead largely symptom-free lives with the right help. The clinical guidelines are in place to help achieve this; it is essential that they are now followed.
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