What is Asthma?
Asthma is a chronic condition that affects the air passages of the lungs called airways. In asthma these airways become inflamed and narrowed at times.
Asthma affects people of all ages and often starts during childhood. It is triggered by many factors (e.g. air pollution) which will be discussed below. These triggers can set off or worsen asthma symptoms and when asthma symptoms get worse, it is called an asthma attack.
Once a person has asthma, it is important they have an action plan to manage their asthma. An action plan is a plan that you set up with your doctor on what to do if you or your child is having an asthma attack. In it, you outline the steps you will take in order to control the attack. This helps you have a clear understanding on what to do in the situation.
What causes Asthma
Asthma is a result of a strong immune response to a substance, called an allergen, in the lungs. People without asthma will not have any reaction if exposed to the same allergen.
This strong response of the immune system makes the airways swell up, become narrow and produce more mucus. This makes it harder to breathe. The muscles that form the airway passages also constrict, making it even harder to breathe during an asthma attack.
Exposure to triggers increases the chance of an asthma attack. Here are a list of common asthma triggers:
- Lung infections
- Allergens: grass, trees, weeds, house-dust mites, animal dander, cockroaches, fungal spores
- Environment: cold air, fog, tobacco smoke, wood smoke
- Emotions: anxiety, stress
- Exercise, especially in cold dry environments
- Certain medications such as aspirin
- Occupational: flour dust, hay mold, spices, dyes, plastics, rubber
What triggers your asthma may be different to what triggers someone else’s asthma. In other words: the various triggers have relative degrees of importance from patient to patient. It is important to be aware of your specific trigger(s) to prevent exposure.
People experience different symptoms depending on how severe their asthma is and how well controlled their asthma is. When asthma is well controlled, a person experiences few symptoms.
The symptoms of asthma include:
- Chest tightness
- Shortness of breath
Asthma usually has a pattern of symptoms:
- The symptoms come and go within the same day
- They are worse at night or in the morning
- They get worse with viral infections such as a cold
Avoiding certain risk factors or triggers is recommended to prevent asthma from getting worse or causing asthma attacks.
Additionally, prevention of exposure to cigarette smoke while being pregnant or in the child’s first few years of life decreases the risk of a child developing asthma early in life.
Treatment for asthma is mostly with inhalers. These are classified into controllers and relievers.
- Controllers are prescribed for long term daily use to prevent symptoms by reducing airway inflammation and narrowing
- Reliever medication is prescribed to relieve symptoms during an asthma attack.
Controllers and relievers (asthma pumps) contain medication to dampen the immune response, reducing inflammation.
How to correctly use an inhaler
It is important to know how to correctly use your inhaler medication to better control and relieve asthma symptoms. The following steps ensure correct inhaler technique:
- Remove the cap and shake the inhaler vigorously
- Breath out slowly and completely
- Hold the inhaler in the upright position
- Insert the mouthpiece into mouth between closed lips
- Depress the canister once and at the same time begin slow and deep inhalation
- Remove the inhaler with closed lips
- Hold breath for 10-15 seconds
- Wait for 20-30 seconds before the second puff
- Rinse mouth with water after use. Spit, don't swallow.
Important tips to remember:
- Always check if your medication is not expired
- Check if the canister is empty