Living with asthma

Daily life

With the right treatment and management, asthma shouldn’t restrict your daily life.


Asthma symptoms are often worse at night. This means you might wake up some nights coughing or with a tight chest. Effectively controlling your asthma with the treatment your doctor or nurse recommends will reduce your symptoms, so you should sleep better.

Read about living with insomnia for more tips on getting better sleep.


If you have asthma symptoms during or after exercise, speak to your doctor or asthma nurse. It is likely they will review your general symptoms and personal asthma plan to make sure your asthma is under control

Your doctor or asthma nurse may also tell you to:

  • Use a reliever inhaler (usually blue) 10-15 minutes before you exercise and again after two hours of prolonged exercise, or when you finish. 
  • Structure your exercise plan around short-burst activities and ensure you warm up properly. 
  • Exercise in humid environments, such as swimming pools. 
  • Breathe through your nose to avoid hyperventilation (excessively rapid and deep breathing).

Read about health and fitness for more information on simple ways to exercise.


Most people with asthma can eat a normal, healthy diet. Occasionally, people with asthma may have food-based allergic triggers and will need to avoid foods such as cows’ milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, yeast products, nuts, and some food colourings and preservatives. However, this is rare.

Read more information about good food and a healthy diet.

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Know your triggers

It is important to identify triggers where possible by making a note of any worsening symptoms or by using your peak flow meter during exposure to certain situations. Some triggers, such as air pollution, viral illness or certain weather conditions, can be hard to avoid. However, it may be possible to avoid other triggers, such as dust mites, fungal spores or pet fur.

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Complications of asthma

Quality of life

Badly controlled asthma can have an adverse effect on your quality of life. The condition can result in:

  • fatigue
  • underperformance or absence from work (in the UK, asthma accounts for at least 12.7 million work days lost each year)
  • psychological problems including stress, anxiety and depression

If you feel your asthma is seriously affecting your quality of life, contact your GP or asthma clinic. Your personal asthma action plan may need to be reviewed to better control the condition.

Respiratory complications

In rare cases, asthma can lead to a number of serious respiratory complications, including:

  • pneumonia (infection of the lungs)
  • a collapse of part or all of the lung
  • respiratory failure, where levels of oxygen in the blood become dangerously low, or levels of carbon dioxide become dangerously high)
  • status asthmaticus (severe asthma attacks that do not respond to treatment)

All these complications are life threatening and will need medical treatment.


In the UK in 2009, there were 1,131 deaths from asthma, 12 of which were in children aged 14 or under. On average, three people a day die from asthma.

Asthma and pregnancy

There is no danger medicines you use for asthma will cause any problems for the developing baby in the womb. Due to changes that take place in the body during pregnancy, many women find their asthma symptoms change when they are pregnant. Some women’s asthma improves during pregnancy, some women’s asthma worsens and for others it stays the same.

The most severe asthma symptoms experienced by pregnant women tend to occur between the 24th and 36th week of pregnancy. Symptoms then decrease significantly during the last month of pregnancy. Only 10% of women experience asthma symptoms during labour and delivery, and these symptoms can normally be controlled through the use of reliever medicine.

You should manage your asthma in the same way as you did before you were pregnant. The medicines used for asthma have been proven to be safe to take during pregnancy and when breastfeeding your child. The one exception is leukotriene receptor antagonists which do not yet have enough evidence about their safety compared with other asthma medications.

However, if you need to take leukotriene receptor antagonists to control your asthma, your GP or asthma clinic may recommend you carry on taking them. This is because risks to you and your child from uncontrolled asthma are thought to be far higher than any potential risk from this medicine.

Read more information about asthma in pregnancy.

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Financial support

Asthma is classed as a disability if it has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on your ability to carry out normal daily activities. This impairment must:

  • have lasted for 12 months
  • be likely to last 12 months
  • be of a recurring nature where a recurrence is likely in a 12-month period

If you or your child has care or mobility needs because of asthma, you may be entitled to benefits.

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Occupational asthma

If you develop asthma because of your work and this is fully documented by your doctor and your employer, you can make a claim for Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit from the Benefits Agency. This pays £20-100 a week to people with asthma that was caused by certain respiratory sensitisers. You can still claim even if your respiratory sensitiser is not on this list, as long as it is a ‘known sensitiser’ (a complete list is available from the Health and Safety Executive).

If you want to take legal action against your employer because of occupational asthma, your lawyer must act within three years of diagnosis.

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Get in touch with others

Many people with a long-term health condition experience feelings of stressanxiety and depression.

You may find it helpful to talk about your experience of asthma with others in a similar position. Patient organisations have local groups where you can meet others who have been diagnosed with asthma and undergone treatment.

If you experience feelings of depression, talk to your GP. They will be able to give advice and support. Alternatively, you can find depression support services in your area.

Read more information about living with long-term conditions and long-term health conditions at school.

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