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by James Thomas, Saturday, July 8, 2017 | Categories: Asthma

If you’ve spent any time at all scrolling through the Daily Mail website, you’ll “know” that just about everything gives you cancer – whether it’s processed meat, chips, the contraceptive pill, or even having children. We live, in other words, in an age of shocking headlines, where our newspapers push scare tactics and a "can’t win" mentality that says – no matter what we do – we will find ourselves doomed to ill-health and unhappiness.

It’s with some scepticism, then, that you might find yourself approaching the asthma study carried out by the University of Liège back in March. Using mice, researchers examined how exposure to microbes could affect lung health. The findings indicated that the presence of bacterial DNA actively modified the immune environment of the lungs, which in turn helped to prevent the development of asthma. In simple terms: exposure to dirt was shown to be beneficial – and living in an environment that was too clean was shown to predispose you to asthma.

Time to Rethink Guidelines?

The reason this study is particularly frustrating is that all current guidance on asthma management stresses the importance of cleanliness. Just last year, we reported on new research that showed how "indoor pollution" – in other words dust, dirt, irritants and smoke within the home – play a worrying role in the severity of children’s asthma symptoms.

How, then, may we reconcile that knowledge with this new study? Well, the first thing to note is that this study has only been carried out on mice – although human studies have been planned. Secondly, it’s not clear from this research what constitutes "good" versus "bad" microbes. Lastly, the study seems to suggest that these findings are best applied in a preventative, as opposed to curative, manner. In other words – though this will require further consideration when more studies have been carried out – some exposure to microbes may be beneficial before, but not after, a person has developed asthma.

Going forward, asthma sufferers should not make changes to their asthma management – and parents wary of their children developing asthma shouldn’t stop vacuuming or washing their hands! For more guidance on good asthma management, read on.

Keeping Your Asthma Under Control

Many people with asthma do not consider it a serious or life-threatening condition, but that is largely because they are able to manage it well. Four simple rules for successfully managing asthma are:

  • Using your inhalers and medications correctly
  • Avoiding your triggers
  • Having a written Asthma Action Plan
  • Regular asthma reviews with your asthma doctor or nurse

Inhaler Use

If you only use a reliever inhaler, you should not be using it to treat asthma symptoms more than three times a week. Using it this frequently indicates that your asthma is not well-managed and that you probably require a preventer inhaler as well.

If you use a preventer inhaler you need to make sure you take it as directed – usually this means taking it twice a day. If you don’t use your preventer in this manner, you will not benefit from its protective effects. It’s also important to make sure you are using your inhalers correctly. You can do this by getting guidance from your doctor or nurse at your next asthma review.

To learn more about asthma medications, consult this guide from Asthma UK.

Asthma Triggers

Asthma symptoms are "set off" by certain triggers. These triggers vary from person to person; however, common ones include:

  • Allergens such as dust mites, pollen, and animal dander
  • Food allergies
  • Airborne irritants such as cigarette smoke and pollution
  • Infections of the upper airways such as the common cold
  • Food additives such as sulphites
  • Strong emotions such as stress or laughter
  • Weather conditions such as thunderstorms
  • Indoor conditions such as mould and damp
  • Exercise

One of the best things you can do for your asthma is to take note of your personal triggers in your Asthma Action Plan and try to avoid them as best you can. Because it’s not always easy to avoid these triggers, it’s even more important to make sure you are taking the correct medications and using your inhalers properly.

To find out more about asthma, and the medications available to treat it, visit our Asthma page.

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