A word of warning to first-year asthma students and their friends: autumn can be a dangerous time for those with the condition. Just as many students fall prey to ‘freshers’ flu’ in their first week as they are exposed to new germs, asthma sufferers can also be exposed to new triggers which can bring about a potentially serious attack.
Letting people know that you suffer from asthma can be difficult, but it’s important. In the early days of university, it’s easy to forget the self-care rituals of home life. Routines such as using a preventer inhaler as prescribed, combined with sleeping less, not eating well and potentially catching a cold, can all contribute to asthma symptoms. Informing lecturers, new friends, even your hallway neighbour, about your asthma, means they can help in an emergency.
According to Asthma UK, young people with the condition are more likely to have uncontrolled asthma and least likely to get life-saving basic care. 18-34 were the least likely to have a personalised asthma action plan, with only 26% saying they used one. They were also the age group least likely to attend their annual asthma review, with only 64% doing so.
A new environment, plus exposure to allergic asthma triggers such as house dust mites and mould spores and the change in season, means that students with allergic asthma are at high risk of hospital admission if their asthma isn’t managed properly.
Of the 5.4 million asthma sufferers in the UK, 50% of adults and 90% of children have allergic triggers. This makes allergic asthma the commonest form of the condition, responsible for roughly 1 in 3 asthma attacks. Yet despite the fact that allergy testing could help, asthmatics manage their triggers and potentially save lives, new research has shown that over three million with the condition have never been tested.
Specific IgE testing to identify allergens are recommend by NICE guidelines as soon as a formal asthma diagnosis has been made. Over 50% of people who took part in the research said they did not know what triggered their asthma, however 97% believed that understanding their asthma triggers would help them to manage their condition. 90% of those who had been tested believed this was the case.
For asthma sufferers, taking steps to manage their exposure to allergic triggers can be as simple as washing sheets at a higher temperature to kill dust mites and vacuuming regularly. Choosing accommodation with limited carpeting, keeping living areas well ventilated and wiping surfaces to prevent a build-up of mould is also key. Mould spores flourish in warm, damp environments and house dust mites are commonly found in common living areas like sitting rooms and bedrooms.
A better knowledge of asthma triggers could save lives. Dr Shuaib Nasser, Consultant in the Department of Allergy, Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, states, “We know that triggers can be identified for many people with asthma – the attacks don’t come out of the blue.” Known triggers include grass pollen, pet dander, food allergy, dust mites, fungal spores. Dr Nasser emphasises that “allergen testing is widely available and should be offered to everyone where allergy is likely to trigger asthma attacks.
Asthma is a serious condition. Every ten seconds, someone in the UK has an asthma attack and around three people every day die as a result. Studies earlier this year have shown that over 1 million asthma sufferers could be using their inhalers incorrectly due to poor information and a horrifying 1 in 11 people don’t believe asthma can kill. Allergy testing, attending an annual review and making use of a personalised asthma action plan is vital, particularly as new students move away from home for the first time and are particularly vulnerable.