Flinders Medical Centre Emergency Department
Asthma Information Sheet

What is asthma?

Asthma is a common condition of the lungs, causing episodes of airway inflammation (redness, swelling and mucus production). Symptoms of asthma include:

  1. shortness of breath
  2. wheeze (high pitched whistle when breathing)
  3. chest tightness
  4. cough

Individuals may experience any combination of these symptoms.

What triggers can cause an asthma attack?

  1. colds and flu
  2. exercise
  3. pollens, grasses, animal fur
  4. cigarette smoke, sprays, chemicals
  5. cold air
  6. certain medications (aspirin, beta blockers, NSAIDs)

By avoiding triggers you can improve asthma control.

If exercise triggers your asthma, this is best managed by use of your puffer prior to exertion.

How can I best control my asthma?

  1. use of prescribed medications as directed
  2. awareness and avoidance of trigger factors
  3. regular contact with your GP
  4. use of an updated Asthma Action Plan
  5. remain active and healthy
  6. use of peak flow monitoring

What is an Asthma Action Plan?

An action plan is a n individualised step by step guide, designed by your GP or asthma specialist, which provides instruction on how to manage an asthma attack or deterioration.

If you do not have one, consult your GP.

What medications are used in asthma?

Common asthma medications are summarised on the following page.

Many asthma medications are inhaled by use of:

  1. puffers
  2. turbuhalers
  3. nebulisers

It is important to know the correct delivery technique in order to benefit from their use.

You should have your technique reviewed regularly.

What is a spacer?

A spacer is a plastic chamber that simplifies and improves the delivery of medication from puffers. They are especially useful if your puffer technique is poor.

They are essential for children, but recommended for all.

A spacer is important if you use inhaled steroid puffers, as they reduce adverse effects.

When should I seek medical attention?

Arrange a non urgent GP review if you:

  1. use reliever medication more than 3 times / week
  2. wake at night with asthma
  3. feel asthma inhibits your exercise capacity

Seek urgent GP or Emergency Department review if you develop:

  1. rapidly worsening symptoms
  2. inadequate relief with use of reliever medication
  3. rapid breathing
  4. difficulty talking due to breathlessness
  5. sucking in between ribs or at the base of windpipe with breaths

If your symptoms are severe, then call an ambulance.

For more detailed information please visit www.asthmasa.org.au
Flinders Medical Centre Emergency Department
August 2004

Asthma Medications Guide

Action

Medications*

Adverse Effects

Relievers

Relax airway muscle.

Used to provide First Aid for asthma symptoms (cough, wheeze, breathlessness, chest tightness).

Work within minutes, but only last short duration (approx. 4-6 hours).

 

Salbutamol

(Ventolin, Airomir, Asmol)

Terbutaline (Bricanyl)

 

Palpitations ( rapid heartbeat)

Tremor

Feeling of nervousness

Headaches

Dizziness

Symptom

Controllers

Relax airway muscles.

Provide symptom control for extended period (up to 12 hours).

Used for those who experience:

symptoms despite regular steroids
nocturnal symptoms
exercise induced asthma

Do not eliminate need for use of relievers in acute attacks.

 

Salmeterol (Serevent)

 

Eformoterol (Foradile, Oxis)

 

 

Rapid heartbeat

Shakes

Headaches

These usually disappear once medication has been used for a few weeks

Preventers

 

 

Treat the airway inflammation that causes asthma

 

With reduction in inflammation the airways become less sensitive to triggers.

 

Must be taken regularly to be effective

 

 

Do not relieve acute asthma symptoms.

Inhaled Non Steroid

Ipratropium (Intal Forte)

Unpleasant taste
Cough
Reduced by use of spacer
Oral Non Steroid

Montelukast (Singulair)

Headache
Stomach upset
Inhaled Corticosteroid

Budesonide (Pulmicort)
Fluticasone (Flixotide)
Beclamethasone
(Qvar, Becotide)

Oral thrush
Sore mouth / throat
Voice change

Reduced by use of spacer and mouth rinsing after use

Oral Corticosteroid

Prednisolone
(Solone, Predmix, Redipred)

Appetite increase
Weight gain
Mood swings
Fluid retention

Combination Medications

Combination of preventer and symptom controller in single inhaler.

Use if preventer alone is insufficient to control symptoms.

Salmeterol / Fluticasone
(Seretide)

Eformoterol / Budesonide
(Symbicort)

Same as those seen with preventer and symptom controller medications used separately.

* Names in italics represent product trade-names of the listed medication.

This represents a summary only please consult your GP or treating ED doctor for more information.