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This article provides an overview of asthma in adults, includin pathophysiology, risk factors and triggers. Assessment, diagn pharmacological therapies are considered. The importance of in partnership with the patient and encouraging supported self-care are highlighted.
Learning zone
This article provides an overview of asthma in adults, including
pathophysiology, risk factors and triggers. Assessment, diagnosis and
pharmacological therapies are considered. The importance of working
in partnership with the patient and encouraging supported self-care
are highlighted.
Gerri Kaufman
Lecturer in health sciences and pathway leader in health care and
social care practice, Alcuin College, University of York, York.
Correspondence to:
Asthma, pathophysiology, pharmacological therapy, respiratory
disease, spirometry
These keywords are based on subject headings from the British
Nursing Index.
All articles are subject to external double-blind peer review and
checked for plagiarism using automated software.
Guidelines for writing for publication are available at For related articles visit the
archive and search using the keywords above.
Asthma: pathophysiology,
diagnosis and management
NS613 Kaufman G (2011) Asthma: pathophysiology, diagnosis and management.
Nursing Standard. 26, 5, 48-56. Date of acceptance: August 18 2011.
4Recognise risk factors for and triggers
of asthma.
4Describe the key elements of assessment
and diagnosis.
4Understand the pharmacological
treatments for asthma.
4Explain the importance of partnership
working between healthcare professionals
and people with asthma.
Asthma was first described by the ancient
Greek physician Hippocrates and derived
from the Greek word asthmaino meaning
panting or gasping (Diamant et al 2007).
Since ancient times, considerable advances
have been made in understanding the genetics,
epidemiology and pathophysiology of
asthma, a condition that has increased in
prevalence worldwide over the past 20 years
(Rees 2010). It is estimated that 5.4 million
people in the UK receive treatment for the
condition, of which 1.1 million are children
and 4.3 million are adults (Asthma UK 2004).
International asthma guidelines have been in
existence for over two decades and therapies
of proven efficacy are available, yet
controlling asthma can be difficult for many
patients (Haughney et al 2008).
The disease significantly affects healthcare
systems as well as the quality of life of patients
and their families (Sarver and Murphy 2009).
Poor asthma control results in increased
hospital admissions and urgent care visits
(Haughney et al 2008). In addition, persistent
symptoms cause considerable morbidity and
absence from work and school (Rees 2010).
48 october 5 :: vol 26 no 5 :: 2011 © NURSING STANDARD / RCN PUBLISHING
4Page 58
Asthma multiple
choice questionnaire
4Page 59
Read Rebecca Land’s
practice profile on
metastatic breast cancer
4Page 60
Guidelines on how
to write a practice
Aims and intended learning outcomes
This article will focus on the pathophysiology,
diagnosis and management of asthma in adults.
After reading the article and completing the
time out activities you should be able to:
4Identify the airways affected by asthma.
4Describe the pathophysiology of
the disease.
p48-56w5_A&S Template 03/10/2011 10:49 Page 48
and Douglass 2010). Atmospheric pollution
and maternal smoking in pregnancy can
pre-dispose individuals to raised IgE levels
and the development of asthma and airway
hyper-responsiveness (Ward et al 2010).
Non-atopic asthma
Not all cases of asthma are attributable to
atopy, therefore factors unrelated to atopic
disease are also important (Anderson 2005).
Some patients develop asthma in adult life
often as a consequence of viral respiratory
infections; this is often referred to as
non-atopic asthma. This type of asthma can
be more persistent with few obvious triggers
other than infection (Diamant et al 2007,
Rees 2010). Non-atopic asthma is
IgE-independent (Ward et al 2010).
Airways aected by asthma
Asthma can affect the trachea, the bronchi
and the bronchioles, which form part of the
lower respiratory tract. The disease causes
bronchoconstriction or abnormal narrowing
of the airways as a result of epithelial damage,
over-production of mucus, oedema,
bronchospasm and muscle damage (Barnes
1996, Rees 2010).
Epithelial damage
In asthma, the epithelium (the layer of cells
that line the airways) can become damaged
and peel away. Epithelial shedding can
contribute to airway hyper-responsiveness
in several ways; these include loss of barrier
function, which may allow penetration of
allergens; loss of enzymes that break down
inflammatory mediators; and exposure of
sensory nerves, which may lead to reflex
neural effects on the airway (Barnes 1996).
Changes can also occur in the subepithelial
layer, such as the laying down of collagen
(Rees 2010).
Mucus hypersecretion
Asthma causes the mucus-secreting cells in the
airways to multiply and the mucous glands to
expand. Increased mucus secretion contributes
to the formation of viscid mucous plugs that
can occlude the airways (Ward et al 2010).
The capillaries in the airway walls can dilate and
may leak. The consequences of microvascular
leakage include increased airway secretions,
impaired mucociliary clearance and oedema,
© NURSING STANDARD / RCN PUBLISHING october 5 :: vol 26 no 5 :: 2011 49
Mortality rates associated with asthma have
declined since the 1960s, but 1,131 deaths
were reported in 2009 (Rees 2010). On
average, three people per day or one person
every eight hours dies from asthma in the UK
(Asthma UK 2004). Improved care could
avoid 75% of hospital admissions and up to
90% of deaths (Greener 2010). Therefore it is
important that healthcare professionals who
come into contact with patients with asthma
have a good knowledge of the disease.
Complete time out activity
Dening asthma
There is no gold standard definition of asthma
(British Thoracic Society (BTS) and Scottish
Intercollegiate Guidelines Network (SIGN)
2011). However, the Global Strategy for
Asthma Management and Prevention
(Bateman et al 2008) describes the
pathological, physiological and clinical
features of the disease: ‘Asthma is a chronic
inflammatory disorder of the airways in
which many cells and cellular elements
play a role. The chronic inflammation is
associated with airway hyper-responsiveness
that leads to recurrent episodes of wheezing,
breathlessness, chest tightness and coughing
particularly at night or in the early morning.
These episodes are usually associated with
widespread, but variable, airflow obstruction
within the lung that is often reversible either
spontaneously or with treatment.’
Asthma can be attributable to atopy
(Townshend et al 2007), but factors unrelated
to atopy can also be important in the
development of the disease (Anderson 2005).
Atopic asthma
Atopic asthma generally starts in childhood
or adolescence and is associated with
identifiable triggers that provoke wheezing.
Atopic asthma is often associated with a family
history of allergic diseases and features of atopy
such as eczema and rhinitis (Diamant et al
2007, Townshend et al 2007). The disease
commonly occurs as a result of an allergic
response to specific allergens such as house
dust mite, grass and tree pollen and dander
from domestic pets (Ward et al 2010).
Exposure to an allergen in atopic individuals
leads to the release of excessive quantities of
Immunoglobulin E (IgE) from B lymphocytes.
IgE binds to cells involved in inflammation,
which stimulates the release of inflammatory
mediators that cause bronchoconstriction
and inflammation of the airways (Holgate
Using an anatomy
and physiology
textbook, review
the anatomy of the
respiratory system.
List the parts of the
respiratory system
that you think might
be affected by asthma.
How would you explain
what asthma is to a
p48-56w5_A&S Template 03/10/2011 10:49 Page 49
which may contribute to airway narrowing and
hyper-responsiveness (Barnes 1996).
Bronchospasm is also a feature of asthma.
It describes the sharp contraction of bronchial
smooth muscle, which narrows the airways.
Airway remodelling
With poorly controlled or undertreated
asthma, changes in structural cells and tissues
can occur in the lower respiratory tract that
lead to remodelling of the airway, resulting
in permanent fibrotic damage (Rees 2010).
Risk and trigger factors
The major risk factors for the development of
asthma can be categorised as host or causal
factors (Holgate and Douglass 2010). Host
factors, such as a genetic predisposition to
the disease, increase the risk of a person
developing asthma. A familial link in asthma
has been established; the chance of developing
the disease by the age of 50 years is increased
by ten times if there is a first-degree relative
with asthma (Rees 2010). However, genetic
susceptibility alone does not account for the
development of the disease; it depends on
environmental factors acting with a genetic
predisposition (Rees 2010). Causal factors are
environmental factors, for example indoor
and outdoor allergens, air pollution and
tobacco smoke, which influence susceptibility
to the development of asthma in predisposed
individuals (Holgate and Douglass 2010).
Trigger factors refer to the environmental
influences that may instigate an asthma
episode or cause symptoms to persist in an
individual with the disease (Scullion 2005,
Holgate and Douglass 2010). Examples of
risk factors and triggers are shown in Box 1.
Complete time out activity
In the absence of a clear definition of asthma it
can be difficult to diagnose the condition (BTS
and SIGN 2011, McMurray 2010). Diagnosis
requires clinical experience and judgement,
because signs and symptoms of asthma can
vary from patient to patient, and may change
within the same patient at different times and
under different circumstances (Sarver and
Murphy 2009). Taking a clinical history is
essential to allow a reasonably certain
diagnosis of asthma, or an alternative
diagnosis to be made (BTS and SIGN 2011).
Clinical diagnosis of asthma is often based
on the presence of symptoms such as cough,
wheeze, breathlessness and chest tightness
(Holgate and Douglass 2010). However,
these symptoms are not specific to asthma.
A key indication that asthma may be the
cause is symptom variability. Therefore, it is
important to establish whether symptoms
are intermittent. Additionally, it is essential
to assess the severity of the symptoms by
establishing how often they occur and
whether they cause nocturnal waking or
exercise limitation. It also important to
identify whether symptoms are provoked
50 october 5 :: vol 26 no 5 :: 2011 © NURSING STANDARD / RCN PUBLISHING
Learning zone respiratory focus
Having read the
previous section,
summarise the key
changes that take place
in the airways as a
result of asthma. List
the main risk factors
for development of the
disease. What factors
may trigger symptoms
in an individual with
asthma? A patient
presents with suspected
asthma. What steps
need to be taken to
confirm the diagnosis?
Risk factors and triggers for asthma
Host factors
4Genetic susceptibility.
Causal factors
4Indoor allergens (house dust mite, animal
allergens, cockroach allergen, fungi).
4Outdoor allergens (pollens, fungi).
4Active and passive smoking.
4Indoor and outdoor air pollution.
4Respiratory infections.
4Parasitic infections.
4Diet and drugs.
4Socioeconomic status.
4Occupational sensitisers.
Trigger factors
4Allergens (house dust mite, pollens, cat allergen).
4Respiratory infections.
4Weather changes.
4Sulphur dioxide.
4Emotions such as stress.
4Drugs (paracetamol and non-steroidal
anti-inflammatory drugs).
4Smoke and dust.
4Foods and additives.
4Irritants such as household sprays and paint
(Scullion 2005, Holgate and Douglass 2010, Rees 2010)
p48-56w5_A&S Template 03/10/2011 10:49 Page 50
by specific triggers (Scullion 2005, Haldar
and Pavord 2008).
Information about past medical history
should include birth history of the patient,
any history of asthma in childhood and details
of any atopy. It is also important to establish
any medications the patient is taking,
including prescribed drugs, medications
purchased over the counter and herbal or
homeopathic remedies. Non-steroidal
anti-inflammatory drugs, beta blockers and
aspirin can exacerbate asthma (Currie et al
2009). Chronic cough caused by angiotensin
converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors may also
mimic less well-controlled asthma (Currie et al
2009). The response to any treatment already
trialled for respiratory symptoms, such as
bronchodilators, should be established.
Family history, and specifically any history
of asthma or atopy, should be explored.
Social history should include information
about hobbies and pets to ascertain if these
may be triggers. Common sources of inhaled
allergens, which are important causal factors
for asthma, include domestic animals such as
cats, dogs, rabbits and guinea pigs, which
release allergens in their saliva, urine, faeces
and danders (Holgate and Douglass 2010).
Occupational asthma may account for as
much as 9-15% of adult onset disease (BTS
and SIGN 2011). Therefore asking patients
about occupational exposure to airway
irritants may reveal a trigger. The most
frequently reported causative agents for
occupational asthma include isocyanates,
flour and grain dust, colophony and fluxes,
latex, animals, aldehydes and wood dust (BTS
and SIGN 2011). Individuals who are better
when not at work or when on holiday should
be referred and investigated for occupational
asthma (Currie et al 2009). Workers reported
to be at increased risk of developing asthma
are highlighted in Box 2.
Although smoking and use of alcohol are not
diagnostic markers for asthma, cigarette
smoking is associated with persistent asthma
and higher mortality if the individual
experiences a near fatal exacerbation (Currie et
al 2005). Similarly, alcohol misuse is associated
with fatal or near fatal episodes (Currie et al
2005). Information about smoking behaviour
and alcohol consumption can be used to inform
health education for the patient. Since smokers
and former smokers are at high risk for chronic
obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
(Kuebler et al 2008), information about
smoking behaviour alerts the practitioner
to potential differential diagnoses.
As well as obtaining a clinical history, it is also
important to obtain objective support for the
diagnosis (BTS and SIGN 2011). Confirmation
of asthma diagnosis depends on demonstrating
airflow obstruction that varies over short
periods of time (BTS and SIGN 2011). This can
be achieved through spirometry (Scullion 2005)
or peak expiratory flow (PEF) measurement.
Spirometry, which measures lung volumes and
airflow (Scullion 2005, Bostock-Cox 2010),
is the preferred test for the diagnosis and
monitoring of patients with asthma because
it allows clear identification of airflow
obstruction (BTS and SIGN 2011). Spirometry
can differentiate between restrictive and
obstructive lung disease and measures the
forced vital capacity (FVC) and the forced
expiratory volume in the first second (FEV1).
Obstructive spirometry traces are seen in
asthma and COPD (Bostock-Cox 2010). Tests
of FVC and FEV1are conducted by asking the
patient to perform a forced expiration after a
maximum inspiration, and the highest of at
least three reproducible measurements is
recorded. The ratio of FEV1to FVC provides a
useful measure of airway obstruction. Forced
expiration normally results in FEV1/FVC
ratios of more than 70%. Ratios below 70%
suggest airway obstruction and the lower the
ratio, the more severe the obstruction (Holgate
and Douglass 2010).
© NURSING STANDARD / RCN PUBLISHING october 5 :: vol 26 no 5 :: 2011 51
Workers at increased risk of developing asthma
4Bakers, food processors.
4Forestry workers.
4Chemical workers, plastics and rubber workers.
4Metal workers, welders.
4Textile workers.
4Electrical and electronic production workers.
4Storage workers.
4Farm workers.
4Dental workers.
4Laboratory technicians.
(British Thoracic Society and Scottish Intercollegiate
Guidelines Network 2011)
p48-56w5_A&S Template 03/10/2011 10:49 Page 51
Spirometry should only be carried out by
practitioners who have been trained in the
task. Poor spirometry technique and incorrect
interpretation can result in incorrect diagnosis
and potentially inappropriate treatment
(Bostock-Cox 2010).
Peak expiratory ow measurement
PEF is a simple test of lung function that
measures the maximum flow of air achievable
from a forced expiration that is started
from a position of maximum lung inflation
(Booker 2007). PEF measurement is easy
and quick to explain and once the patient can
perform the test well, it can have an important
role in monitoring patients with asthma.
The correct way to take a peak flow reading
is explained in Box 3.
Predicted lung function values from either
spirometry or PEF are related to a person’s
age, gender, height and ethnicity (Booker
2007, 2008).
Although both PEF and spirometry can
be used in diagnosis, it is important to
remember that results may be normal if
the measurement is taken when there is
no underlying obstruction of the airways
(Scullion 2005). PEF can be a useful test in
assessing variability, which is one of the key
features of asthma (Bostock-Cox 2010).
Assessing the extent of variability in PEF
readings requires the patient to keep a peak
flow diary for at least two weeks. PEF should
be measured in the morning and at night,
and any medications, symptoms or factors
that may be relevant to triggering symptoms
should be documented (Scullion 2005). In
people with asthma, PEF is often lower in
the morning – the so called early morning
dips – and higher in the evening (Bostock-Cox
2010). The normal daily variations in airway
size are exaggerated in patients with asthma.
Significant variability is present if peak
flow readings vary by 20% or more,
especially if there are morning dips. PEF is
best used to provide an estimate of variability
of airflow from multiple measurements
made over a period of at least two weeks
(BTS and SIGN 2011).
Spirometry and PEF are also important in
the measurement of reversibility. Reversibility
refers to the difference in lung function before
and after treatment (Bostock-Cox 2010).
For asthma diagnosis, spirometry is usually
assessed before and after the administration
of an inhaled short-acting beta-agonist, for
example salbutamol; responsiveness of FEV1
by 15% or 200mL (whichever is the greater)
is indicative of asthma. An increase of more
than 15% and at least 60L/min of PEF,
15-20 minutes after the inhalation of a
short-acting beta-agonist, is indicative of
asthma (Holgate and Douglass 2010).
Complete time out activity
Dierential diagnosis
Symptoms associated with asthma such as
cough, wheeze and breathlessness can also
arise from other causes, so differential
diagnosis should be considered. Other
disorders that can present with symptoms
similar to asthma are listed in Box 4.
In addition to obtaining a detailed medical
history and conducting lung function tests,
careful physical examination can help with
differential diagnosis (Haldar and Pavord
2008, Sarver and Murphy 2009). Clinical
examination is generally normal in
individuals with well-controlled asthma
symptoms. Those with persistent symptoms
may have features of obstructive airway
disease such as chest hyperexpansion and
expiratory wheeze. The BTS and SIGN
(2011) guideline on the management of
asthma in adults refers to the concept of
probability in making a diagnosis of asthma.
52 october 5 :: vol 26 no 5 :: 2011 © NURSING STANDARD / RCN PUBLISHING
Learning zone respiratory focus
Correct way to take a peak ow reading
4The patient should be standing if possible.
4The patient should be shown how to hold the
peak flow meter horizontally to the mouth,
making sure the fingers are free of the cursor.
4The patient should be taught to take the deepest
inhalation possible, then to seal the lips around
the mouthpiece and blow out as hard as possible.
(Scullion 2005)
Examples of dierential diagnoses
4Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
4Ischaemic cardiac pain.
4Heart failure.
4Gastroesophageal reflux disease.
4Inhaled foreign bodies and upper airway
4Vocal cord dysfunction.
(Sarver and Murphy 2009, Rees 2010)
p48-56w5_A&S Template 03/10/2011 10:49 Page 52
The practitioner has three options after initial
assessment and examination:
4High probability – diagnosis of asthma
likely. For adults in this category the
guideline recommends a trial of treatment
based on a stepwise approach. Treatment
should continue if the response is positive,
but in the absence of a response further
investigation or referral is recommended.
4Intermediate probability – diagnosis
uncertain. For adults in this group the
guideline recommends a trial of treatment
if the FEV1/FVC is less than 70%. Adults
with an FEV1/FVC more than 70% require
further investigation or referral.
4Low probability – other diagnosis likely.
For adults in this category investigation or
treatment for whatever condition is
suspected should be initiated and referral
considered if appropriate.
Complete time out activity
Pharmacological treatment
The BTS and SIGN (2011) stepwise approach
to asthma management (Table 1) helps
guide the practitioner when prescribing
treatment. The stepwise approach provides
advice on drug classes and suitable doses.
Patients should start treatment at the step
most appropriate to the initial severity of their
asthma so that early control is achieved.
Treatment should be stepped up when
required and stepped down when control is
good. Practitioners should always revisit the
diagnosis and check adherence to existing
medication and inhaler technique before
stepping up treatment (BTS and SIGN 2011).
Short-acting beta2agonists
First-line treatment for mild intermittent
asthma is a short-acting beta2agonist, either
salbutamol or terbutaline, taken by inhalation
(Barnes 2008, Rees 2010). Short-acting
beta2agonists work on the beta2adrenergic
receptors in the smooth muscle of bronchial
tissue, producing bronchodilaton and
relieving the symptoms of chest tightness and
breathlessness (Scullion and Holmes 2010).
Inhaled corticosteroids
If symptom control is not achieved with a
bronchodilator, an inhaled corticosteroid
should be added for adults who need to use an
inhaled beta2agonist three times a week
or more, who are symptomatic three times a
week or more or are waking one night a week
(BTS and SIGN 2011). Inhaled corticosteroids
such as beclometasone dipropionate,
budesonide and fluticasone propionate,
are the most effective preventive therapy for
asthma (Rees 2010). These agents reduce
inflammation and decrease airway
hyper-responsiveness and the frequency of
exacerbations (Holgate and Douglass 2010).
Although the above-mentioned drugs
appear to be equally effective (British
National Formulary (BNF) 2011) there are
differences in potency between beclometasone
dipropionate, budesonide and fluticasone
propionate, which means that doses are not
equivalent. The recommended doses of
inhaled corticosteroids are set out in the BTS
and SIGN (2011) guideline.
Long-acting beta2agonists
A long-acting beta2agonist can also be added
as part of the stepwise approach if, as required,
use of a short-acting beta2agonist and regular
use of an inhaled corticosteroids do not control
symptoms. Long-acting beta2agonists include
salmeterol and formoterol. These agents act by
relaxing the airways, enhancing mucociliary
clearance and decreasing vascular
permeability (Holgate and Douglass 2010).
However, the long-acting beta 2agonist should
be discontinued if there is no response and the
dose of inhaled corticosteroid increased (BTS
and SIGN 2011). Long-acting beta2agonists
should not be used as monotherapy and should
only be started in patients who are on inhaled
corticosteroids, and the inhaled corticosteroid
should be continued (BTS and SIGN 2011).
Inhaled long-acting beta2agonists and
inhaled corticosteroids can be given in a
combination inhaler rather than separate
inhalers once effectiveness is established.
Combination inhalers are considered to
aid compliance and have the advantage
of guaranteeing that the long-acting beta2
agonist is not taken without the inhaled
steroid (BTS and SIGN 2011). Examples
of combination inhalers include Seretide
and Symbicort (BNF 2011).
Leukotriene receptor antagonists
If there is persistent poor control of asthma,
the addition of a fourth drug such as a
leukotriene receptor antagonist is
recommended. Leukotriene receptor
antagonists, such as montelukast and
zafirlukast, affect the production and/or
activity of leukotrienes, which are
responsible for airway inflammation and
hyper-responsiveness, mucus production,
oedema and bronchoconstriction
© NURSING STANDARD / RCN PUBLISHING october 5 :: vol 26 no 5 :: 2011 53
Having read the
previous section, define
spirometry PEF and
summarise the
advantages and
disadvantages of each
in asthma diagnosis.
Access this link, which
will take you to the
BTS and SIGN (2011)
guideline on the
management of asthma:
Scroll down to pages
four and five and read
the guidance on
diagnosis in adults.
Access the BTS and
SIGN (2011) guideline
on the management of
asthma. Read pages
eight and nine on
management from
the quick reference
guide. A patient with
asthma is taking an
inhaled short-acting
beta-agonist as required
and 400mcg of inhaled
corticosteroid. However,
the patient is still
experiencing symptoms.
What does the BTS
and SIGN (2011)
guideline suggest
should happen next?
p48-56w5_A&S Template 03/10/2011 10:49 Page 53
(Barnes 2008, Kuebler et al 2008, Rees 2010).
Overall, the effects achieved with these drugs
are less than those achieved with inhaled
corticosteroids (Rees 2010). The leukotrienes
can be effective in patients with aspirin or
exercise-induced asthma (Barnes 2008).
Generally, patients seem to differ in their
response to leukotriene inhibitors and
it is difficult to predict which patients will
respond best (Barnes 2008).
The methylxanthine theophylline is an
effective bronchodilator that may also have
anti-inflammatory properties (Rees 2010).
However, the drug has a narrow therapeutic
index which means the toxic dose is only a
little higher than the effective dose and toxic
levels can cause fatal side effects (Anwar
2008). Appropriate dosing is essential and
monitoring is advisable when treatment is
started, and at regular intervals thereafter
(Holgate and Douglass 2010).
Before introducing drugs such as
theophylline it is important to revisit the
diagnosis and check compliance with
treatment and inhaler technique.
Complete time out activity
Oral corticosteroids
Some patients with very severe asthma that
is not controlled with high-dose inhaled
corticosteroids, and who have also been tried
on a long-acting beta agonist, a leukotriene
antagonist or a theophylline, will require
regular long-term oral corticosteroid tablets
54 october 5 :: vol 26 no 5 :: 2011 © NURSING STANDARD / RCN PUBLISHING
Learning zone respiratory focus
Drugs used to treat asthma, their mechanism of action and their place in the stepwise approach to asthma management
Step Medications Mechanism of action
Step 1 Mild intermittent asthma Inhaled short-acting beta2agonist as required, Bronchodilation.
for example salbutamol or terbutaline.
Step 2 Regular preventer therapy Add inhaled corticosteroid 200-800mcg per day. Reduces inflammation and decreases
Start at dose of inhaled corticosteroid appropriate airway hyper-responsiveness.
to severity of the disease.
Step 3 Initial add on therapy Add inhaled long-acting beta2agonist (LABA), Bronchodilation, enhances mucociliary
for example salmeterol or formoterol. clearance, decreases vascular permeability.
Assess response and continue LABA if response
is good.
Benefit from LABA, but control still inadequate,
continue LABA, but increase inhaled corticosteroid to
800mcg per day (if not already on this dose).
If control is still inadequate, introduce trial of
other therapies, for example, a leukotriene receptor
antagonist or slow release theophylline.
Step 4 Persistent poor control Consider trials of increasing inhaled corticosteroid
up to 2mg per day.
Addition of a fourth drug:
Leukotriene receptor antagonist Reduces airway inflammation and
hyper-responsiveness, mucus production,
or oedema and bronchoconstriction.
Slow release theophylline Bronchodilation.
Anti-inflammatory properties.
Step 5 Continuous or frequent Use daily oral corticosteroid in lowest dose providing
use of oral corticosteroids adequate control.
Maintain high dose inhaled corticosteroid at
2mg per day.
Consider other treatments to minimise the use of
oral corticosteroid.
Refer patient for specialist care.
(Rees 2010, British Thoracic Society and Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network 2011)
p48-56w5_A&S Template 03/10/2011 10:49 Page 54
(BTS and SIGN 2011). However, oral
corticosteroid tablets used long-term are
associated with a risk of systemic side effects
and should be used in the lowest dose providing
adequate control. Before proceeding to oral
corticosteroids, patients with inadequately
controlled asthma should be referred to
specialist care (BTS and SIGN 2011).
Inhaler devices and technique,
and adherence to treatment
While the BTS and SIGN (2011) guideline
gives advice on drug classes and possible doses,
it does not provide information on the choice
of device for inhaled therapies. The inhaler
device used to deliver the drugs is as important
as the drugs themselves (Bostock-Cox 2010).
An appropriate inhaler device and correct
inhaler technique are important for adherence
to treatment and control of symptoms.
A variety of devices is available for the
administration of inhaled therapies, including
spacers, pressurised meter dose inhalers and
dry powder devices. Each type of device has
advantages and disadvantages. For example
metered dose inhalers are quick to use and easy
to transport, but good co-ordination is needed
to depress the canister and inhale at the same
time. This can be difficult for some patients,
including children. Dry powder inhalers are
easier to use because they are breath actuated,
but may require a high inspiratory flow for
optimum use (Madoc-Sutton et al 2009).
However, most patients can learn how to use
an inhaler unless they have significant
cognitive impairment, and any of the devices
can work well if the patient can use them
(Madoc-Sutton et al 2009). It is important that
healthcare professionals caring for patients
with asthma discuss preferences for inhaler
devices. The choice of device may be determined
by the choice of drug and different patients are
likely to have different requirements, therefore
no single device will satisfy the needs of
every patient (Madoc-Sutton et al 2009).
If a patient cannot use a particular device
another should be tried.
The BTS and SIGN (2011) guideline
emphasises that inhalers should only be
prescribed after patients have received
training in the use of the device and have
demonstrated satisfactory technique. It is
essential to check technique regularly.
The BTS and SIGN guideline (2011) no
longer recommends nebuliser therapy for most
asthma care. In some situations, nebulisers can
be detrimental, particularly if patients use them
to treat the symptoms (with bronchodilators)
rather than treating the underlying cause
(inflammation) with corticosteroids. The
clinical effectiveness of nebuliser therapy is
no more efficient than using a metered dose
inhaler and a spacer, and the latter is more
cost-effective and convenient (Kelly and Lynes
2011). In acute asthma, BTS and SIGN (2011)
recommend the delivery of high-dose
bronchodilators via a metered dose inhaler
and spacer as first-line management in all
but life-threatening emergencies.
Complete time out activity
Supported self-management
Key components of an optimal management
strategy include partnership working between
healthcare professionals and patients,
comprehensive patient and caregiver
information, appropriate medication and
personalised asthma action plans (Sarver
and Murphy 2009). Partnership working
and regular monitoring provide the
opportunity to elicit patient and carer
perceptions of the disease and its treatment.
Many misperceptions can exist (Cornforth
2010) therefore partnership working is
important to address individual concerns
and give information that can help patients
improve their understanding of the disease.
There is a common perception among
patients and carers that there are numerous
environmental and dietary triggers of asthma,
and that avoidance of these will reduce the
need for drug therapy. The BTS and SIGN
(2011) guideline highlights studies that
explore interventions introduced before the
onset of asthma to reduce incidence of the
condition, as well as interventions introduced
after the onset of asthma to reduce its effect.
Such interventions include aeroallergen (such
as pollen or spores), food allergen and house
dust mite avoidance. However, evidence that
such non-pharmacological interventions are
effective is difficult to obtain and better
controlled intervention studies are required.
Partnership working and regular monitoring
enables the practitioner to record and monitor
peak flow. In some individuals, changes
can occur in PEF before the onset of acute
symptoms. Early detection of an exacerbation
can allow appropriate treatment to be given.
PEF readings can also demonstrate the severity
of asthma when compared with previous
readings enabling the instigation of a
self-management plan (Douglass and Holgate
2010). Portable meters for the measurement
© NURSING STANDARD / RCN PUBLISHING october 5 :: vol 26 no 5 :: 2011 55
Make a list of the
inhaler devices that you
are aware of. List the
factors that you think
are important about
inhaler devices.
Access the
following link and look
at the different inhaler
Are there any devices
with which you are
unfamiliar? Watch the
inhaler technique
demonstration. Aside
from drug therapy,
list any other factors
that you think are
important in the
management of asthma.
p48-56w5_A&S Template 03/10/2011 10:49 Page 55
Asthma is a disease of the airways,
characterised by inflammation and associated
with airway hyper-responsiveness, which can
result in episodes of breathlessness, chest
tightness, wheezing and cough. Genetic
factors, environmental influences and specific
trigger factors are implicated in the
development of the disease.
A thorough clinical history and objective
measurement of lung function are important
in establishing a reasonably certain diagnosis
of asthma. A range of drugs is used in the
management of the disease, and clinical
guidelines advocate a stepwise approach to
drug therapy, where treatment is stepped up
when required and stepped down when
control is good. Alongside pharmacological
management of the disease, partnership
working between patients and healthcare
professionals, personalised written asthma
action plans, information and education are
central to improving the quality of life of
patients with asthma NS
Complete time out activity
56 october 5 :: vol 26 no 5 :: 2011 © NURSING STANDARD / RCN PUBLISHING
Learning zone respiratory focus
of PEF can be obtained on NHS prescription
(Booker 2007, Holgate and Douglass 2010).
Partnership working and regular
monitoring is also an opportunity to check
and correct inhaler technique and discuss
the use of medication. A partnership in
which there is open dialogue is most
influential in medication adherence,
which is central to good symptom control
(Sarver and Murphy 2009).
The importance of self-management
should be emphasised for all patients with
asthma. It is essential they are aware of the
signs and symptoms of poor control and
know how to monitor their symptoms.
Self-management plans are individualised
written protocols that set down specific
courses of action on the basis of asthma
symptoms and/or peak flow recordings.
Action plans that contain appropriate
information have been shown to improve
asthma outcomes in terms of improving
morbidity and reducing the frequency of
hospitalisations (Halder and Pavord 2008).
Complete time out activity
Access the
following link to view
a sample asthma action
Now that you have
completed the article,
you might like to write
a practice profile.
Guidelines to help you
are on page 60
Anderson HR (2005) Prevalence of
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(2008) Differentiating chronic
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... Our laboratory has previously demonstrated that intravenous immunoglobulin G (IVIg) attenuates murine allergic airways disease (AAD) by inducing highly suppressive T-regulatory cells (Treg) (3,4). Most recently, we have established that the Treg induced by IVIg are antigen-specific (5). ...
Full-text available
Tregitopes (T regulatory epitopes) are IgG-derived peptides with high affinity to major histocompatibility complex class II (MHCII), that are known to promote tolerance by activating T regulatory cell (Treg) activity. Here we characterized the effect of IgG Tregitopes in a well-established murine model of allergic asthma, demonstrating in vivo antigen-specific tolerance via adoptive transfer of Tregitope-and-allergen-activated Tregs. Asthma is a heterogeneous chronic inflammatory condition affecting the airways and impacting over 300 million individuals worldwide. Treatment is suppressive, and no current therapy addresses immune regulation in severely affected asthmatics. Although high dose intra-venous immunoglobulin (IVIg) is not commonly used in the asthma clinic setting, it has been shown to improve severe asthma in children and in adults. In our laboratory, we previously demonstrated that IVIg abrogates airway hyperresponsiveness (AHR) in a murine model of asthma and induces suppressive antigen-specific T-regulatory cells. We hypothesized that IgG-derived Tregitopes would modulate allergic airway disease by inducing highly suppressive antigen-specific Tregs capable of diminishing T effector cell responses and establishing antigen-specific tolerance. Using ovalbumin (OVA-) and ragweed-driven murine models of allergic airway disease, we characterized the immunoregulatory properties of Tregitopes and performed Treg adoptive transfer to OVA- and ragweed-allergic mice to test for allergen specificity. Treatment with Tregitopes attenuated allergen-induced airway hyperresponsiveness and lung inflammation. We demonstrated that Tregitopes induce highly suppressive allergen-specific Tregs. The tolerogenic action of IgG Tregitopes in our model is very similar to that of IVIg, so we foresee that IgG Tregitopes could potentially replace steroid-based treatment and can offer a synthetic alternative to IVIg in a range of inflammatory and allergic conditions.
... e asthma treatment recommended by the Global Initiative for Asthma (GINA) consists, especially, on the reduction of symptoms in order to decrease the inflammatory process [26,27]. However, since asthma presents a complex physiopathology associated with variable manifestations, the treatment can lead to different response levels. ...
Full-text available
Asthma, a disease classified as a chronic inflammatory disorder induced by airway inflammation, is triggered by a genetic predisposition or antigen sensitization. Drugs currently used as therapies present disadvantages such as high cost and side effects, which compromise the treatment compliance. Alternatively, traditional medicine has reported the use of natural products as alternative or complementary treatment. The aim of this review was to summarize the knowledge reported in the literature about the use of natural products for asthma treatment. The search strategy included scientific studies published between January 2006 and December 2017, using the keywords “asthma,” “treatment,” and “natural products.” The inclusion criteria were as follows: (i) studies that aimed at elucidating the antiasthmatic activity of natural-based compounds or extracts using laboratory experiments (in vitro and/or in vivo); and (ii) studies that suggested the use of natural products in asthma treatment by elucidation of its chemical composition. Studies that (i) did not report experimental data and (ii) manuscripts in languages other than English were excluded. Based on the findings from the literature search, aspects related to asthma physiopathology, epidemiology, and conventional treatment were discussed. Then, several studies reporting the effectiveness of natural products in the asthma treatment were presented, highlighting plants as the main source. Moreover, natural products from animals and microorganisms were also discussed and their high potential in the antiasthmatic therapy was emphasized. This review highlighted the importance of natural products as an alternative and/or complementary treatment source for asthma treatment, since they present reduced side effects and comparable effectiveness as the drugs currently used on treatment protocols.
... Despite the recent developments in diagnosing and treating asthma, the prevalence, morbidity, and mortality rates of the disease continue to increase. Therefore, asthma is one of the chronic diseases which significantly affects patients' physical, emotional, and social lives, quality of life, and health care costs (1). Asthma is a prevalent disease worldwide and affects approximately 300 million people (2). ...
Full-text available
Background: Asthma is a chronic disease which is prevalent throughout the world. Physical problems such as deterioration in oral health, which may occur due to the triggering factors of asthma as well as the ineffective use of asthma medicine, seem to affect the daily lives of asthma patients. Therefore, it is important to protect oral health and promote positive behavior changes in asthma patients in order to achieve effective treatment and asthma control. Aims: The present study aimed to determine the effects of a training program provided for asthma patients on oral health, inhaler use skills, and behavior change. Study Design: Controlled experimental study. Methods: A total of 124 asthma patients were included in the study. Of the patients, 62 were assigned to the experimental group and the other 62 were assigned to the control group. Data were collected using the patient identification form, the oral assessment guide, the inhaler use skill form, and the evaluation form for behavior change over time. The experimental group received training provided by the researchers on the first meeting and one month later. Written and visual training material were used. Both groups were subject to a final evaluation which was conducted 4 months after their first meeting. Results: It was determined that the oral assessment guide scores (p
Full-text available
Background: Asthma is a chronic lung disease, which causes wheezing, tightness in the chest, shortness of breath and coughing. In the wake of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), which affect the lungs, asthma patients are at high risk. Embelin, a natural benzoquinone obtained mainly from Embelia ribes Burm, has excellent biological properties, including protection against acute asthma. However, since asthma is a chronic and multi-factorial inflammatory disease, asthma conferred by a single allergen in an animal may not be clinically significant. Therefore, the purpose of the current study was to evaluate the effectiveness of embelin against ovalbumin (OVA)-lipopolysaccharide (LPS)-induced severe airway inflammation in experimental animals and to investigate the plausible mechanism of action. Methods: Rats (n=36) were divided into six groups. Group I served as a normal control. Groups II–VI were sensitised with severe allergens (OVA and LPS) on day 7, 14 and 21, followed by OVA and LPS challenge for 30 min three times/week for 3 weeks. Group II acted as an asthmatic disease control and received only vehicle. On the other hand, groups III–V received embelin (12.5, 25 and 50 mg/kg, P.O. respectively) while group VI received a standard dexamethasone (2.5 mg/kg, P.O.) for 15 days from day 27. Lung function parameters, including the respiratory rate, tidal volume and airflow rate were measured at the end of the experiment (day 42). The total and differential counts of leukocytes in the blood and bronchoalveolar fluid (BALF) were calculated. Th2-mediated serum proinflammatory cytokines such as interleukin (IL)-4, IL-5 and IL-13 levels were analyzed. At the end of the study protocol, the lung tissues were removed for a histopathology study. Additionally, a molecular docking simulation on embelin and standard dexamethasone was applied to support the in vivo findings. Results: Significant inhibition of eosinophils, neutrophils, lymphocytes and monocytes in the blood and the BALF was seen in the groups, which received embelin (25 and 50 mg/ kg) and dexamethasone (2.5 mg/kg). Moreover, the lung function parameters were normalised by embelin (25 and 50 mg/kg) treatment significantly. The lung histopathological changes confirmed the protective effect of embelin against severe airway inflammation. The docking findings indicated good binding efficacy of embelin to IL-13. Conclusion: Overall, our findings indicate that embelin can alleviate severe airway inflammation in OVA-LPS-induced model of allergic asthma occurring by suppression of Th2-mediated immune response. Due to its promising anti-asthmatic effect, it is recommended that embelin should be investigated in clinical trials against asthma. It should also be further explored against COVID-19 or COVID-like diseases due to its ameliorative effects on cytokines and immune cell infiltration.
Full-text available
Asthma is a common, chronic, and heterogeneous disease with a global impact and substantial economic costs. It is also associated with significant mortality and morbidity and the burden of undiagnosed asthma is significant. Asthma can be difficult to diagnose as there is no gold standard test and, while spirometry is central in diagnosing asthma, it may not be sufficient to confirm or exclude the diagnosis. The most commonly reported spirometric measures (forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV 1 ) and forced vital capacity assess function in the larger airways. However, small airway dysfunction is highly prevalent in asthma and some studies suggest small airway involvement is one of the earliest disease manifestations. Moreover, there are new inhaled therapies with ultrafine particles that are specifically designed to target the small airways. Potentially, tests of small airways may more accurately diagnose early or mild asthma and assess the response to treatment than spirometry. Furthermore, some assessment techniques do not rely on forced ventilatory manoeuvres and may, therefore, be easier for certain groups to perform. This review discusses the current evidence of small airways tests in asthma and future research that may be needed to further assess their utility.
Asthma is a chronic inflammation of the respiratory tract. This study aimed to prove Moringa oleifera Lam. leaves extract's effect on reducing the eosinophil count and mast cells in asthmatic mice. Twenty BALB/c mice that met the inclusion criteria were divided into four groups of standard control (K1), negative control (K2), dexamethasone (K3), and M. oleifera leaves extract (K4). On days 0 and 7, intraperitoneal ovalbumin (OVA) was sensitized. On days 14, 16, and 18, mice were re-sensitized by inhalation using 1% OVA in sterile 0.9% NaCl. On days 18 to 25, K1 and K2 groups were given Na-CMC, the K3 group was given dexamethasone 1.3 µg/day, and the K4 group was given M. oleifera leaves extract 3.9 mg/day. On the 25th day, the mice were terminated to analyze the eosinophil count and stable bronchiolar mast cells. In conclusion, M. oleifera leaves extract was proven to decrease the eosinophil count with a p-value <0.05 and could stabilize bronchiolar mast cells with a p-value <0.05.
Full-text available
Background Asthma is a common, heterogeneous disease that is characterised by chronic airway inflammation and variable expiratory airflow limitation. Current guidelines use spirometric measures for asthma assessment. This systematic review aimed to assess whether the most commonly reported tests of small airways function could contribute to the diagnosis of asthma. Methods Standard systematic review methodology was used, and a range of electronic databases was searched (Embase, MEDLINE, CINAHL, CENTRAL, Web of Science, DARE). Studies that included physiological tests of small airways function to diagnose asthma in adults were included, with no restrictions on language or date. The risk of bias and quality assessment tools used were Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality tool for cross-sectional studies and Quality Assessment of Diagnostic Accuracy Studies 2 for diagnostic test accuracy (DTA) studies. Results 7072 studies were identified and 10 studies met review criteria. 7 included oscillation techniques and 5 included maximal mid-expiratory flow (MMEF). Studies were small and of variable quality. In oscillometry, total resistance (R5) and reactance at 5 Hz (X5) was altered in asthma compared with healthy controls. The percentage predicted of MMEF was lower in patients with asthma compared with controls in all studies and lower than the % predicted forced expiratory volume in 1 s. In DTA of oscillometry, R5 showed a sensitivity between 69% and 72% and specificity between 61% and 86%. Conclusion There were differences in the results of physiological tests of small airway function in patients with asthma compared with controls. However, studies are small and heterogeneous. Further studies are needed to assess the effectiveness of these tests on a larger scale, including studies to determine which test methodology is the most useful in asthma.
Full-text available
Objectives: This study aimed at characterizing the effect of the illness perception of asthma patients on their disease control. Materials and methods: This study was conducted in 200 patients who consulted between June and August 2012 at the Chest Diseases outpatient clinics and satisfied the eligibility criteria. A patient data form, the Revised Illness Perception Questionnaire (IPQ-R) and the Asthma Control Test (ACT) were used for data collection. Results: Significant differences in IPQ-R scores were found among patients groups differing as to age, marital status, number of children, family type and mean ACT scores (p<0.05). A direct correlation was present between most IPQ-R subscale and overall scores and the ACT score (p<0.01 and <0.05, respectively). Conclusion: When evaluated together with most of its subscales, illness perception was found to affect asthma control.
Full-text available
The aim of this study was to determine the effects of education on symptom control, exacerbation frequency and quality of life in asthma patients. The study which was randomize experiment and control was conducted 1 March – 31 December 2011 with 124 asthma patients (62 intervention group and 62 control group), who applied to a training and research hospital’s chest diseases polyclinic in the city of Istanbul. The data was collected using the patient information form, Asthma Control Test, exacerbation frequency questioning form and Asthma Quality of Life Questionnaire. The intervention group received education from the nurse researcher at the first meeting and one month later. Both of the groups were evaluated four months after their first meeting. After the education, the intervention group showed improvements in the pulmonary function test parameters, asthma-related symptoms, asthma exacerbation frequency and in all the sub-dimensions of quality of life. Patient education is recommended along with the treatment based on the research results for regularly and effective medication use with symptom control, prevent exacerbations, reduce the exacerbation frequency and for a better quality of life. © 2015, Anatolian Journal of Clinical Investigation. All rights reserved.
Asthma is a chronic inflammatory disorder of the airways that is associated with a high level of morbidity. Evidence-based guidelines and effective treatments are available for the management of asthma, but achieving control can be difficult for the majority of sufferers. A careful clinical history and objective measurement of lung function are essential for diagnosis of the condition. Pharmacological therapy should follow a stepwise approach to treatment, and choice of inhaler device and inhaler technique are central to symptom management. Partnership between asthma patients and health professionals is essential to promote patient-centred care and adherence to medication.
Poor control is common among adults with asthma. Approximately 97% of deaths from asthma occur among adults. Improved care could avoid 75% of hospital admissions for asthma and up to 90% of deaths. A number of factors potentially contribute to poor outcomes among adults with asthma. Age itself seems to increase the chance of poor asthma control by 1% per year. This article examines modifiable factors associated with poor control in adults with asthma. For example, one third of adults with asthma admitted poor adherence. Depression and poor cognition undermine compliance and self-management, while psychological and respiratory symptoms interact to worsen control. Psychiatric comorbidity is relatively common among people with asthma; moreover, some maladaptive responses to stress potentially exacerbate asthma. Therefore, nurses should review patients' coping strategies and maintain a high index of suspicion for psychiatric conditions. Furthermore, nurses need to ensure that patients are on the appropriate step of the guidelines and consider reviewing the differential diagnosis if asthma remains poorly controlled. Increasing rhinitis severity and a greater number of cigarettes smoked each day were both associated with deteriorating asthma control. Therefore, nurses should optimize rhinitis management and encourage smoking cessation.
There are, on average, two children in in every classroom with asthma. It is important that school nurses are aware of the latest evidence on the condition. This first article in a series on asthma looks at the signs and symptoms of the condition, and its diagnosis.
The use of bronchodilators plays an important role in respiratory conditions such as asthma and COPD. This article looks at the types of bronchodilators available, their onset and duration of action, side-effects and contraindications. It is hoped that by taking these into consideration, prescribing of bronchodilators in combination with other medication such as corticosteroids (which will be discussed in the next issue of the journal), will lead to effective therapy and reduced morbidity and mortality for the patient.
Beverley Bostock-Cox reviews the basic principles and evidence-based recommendations for making a diagnosis of asthma and supporting patients with self-management
There is a need for regular education and support of patients with asthma, in the context of an effective partnership with health professionals. Asthma reviews in primary care should be carried out at least annually, trigger factors—including factors that lead to occupational asthma—identified, inhaler use investigated, and personalized asthma action plans implemented. Pharmacological management should be tailored to the patient's needs, and should also take into account issues such as non-adherence and smoking.
Asthma is a disorder of the airways that is characterized by typical symptoms arising from a complex interplay between chronic inflammation and disordered airway function. Worldwide disease prevalence continues to rise steadily and the condition contributes to significant morbidity and preventable mortality. The goals of treatment in asthma are to achieve control of symptoms and to prevent exacerbations. Important non-pharmacological measures include patient education, avoidance of triggers and smoking cessation. Pharmacological management involves the stepwise titration of β-agonist bronchodilators and inhaled corticosteroids according to symptoms. Although satisfactory control of asthma is achieved in primary care for a large proportion of patients, between 5 and 10% with so-called ‘refractory asthma’ remain poorly controlled and contribute disproportionately to asthma-related morbidity and mortality. The reasons for this are complex and multifactorial, and many patients with refractory asthma require referral to specialist centres.