This month we saw World Asthma Day. We wanted to clear up some wrong ideas about it. Asthma is a long-term respiratory condition. It is caused by hypersensitivity (over-reacting to things). Inflammation (swelling and redness) occurs in the airways.
Symptoms may include a cough, wheezing, chest tightness and breathlessness, and can vary in severity from person to person.
When asthma symptoms get much worse, it is identified as an ‘asthma attack’.
Your doctor can normally diagnose asthma by asking you a series of questions and by carrying out some tests. The Doctor will want to know when and how often symptoms happen, and if you have noticed anything that might trigger them.
A trigger is anything that irritates or aggravates the airways and brings on the symptoms of asthma. These differ from person to person. Someone with asthma may have a number of triggers. Triggers that are often seen can include house dust mites, animal fur, pollen, tobacco smoke, exercise, cold air and chest infections.
Your doctor will also want to know if you have been taking any medicines. He will ask what your occupation is and whether you smoke or are exposed to passive smoking. He will likely as not as for details about your work and home environment.
If you have asthma, you may have one or more of these symptoms:
- Tight chest, like a band tightening around it
- Wheezing, a whistling sound when you breathe
- Coughing, particularly at night and early morning
- Attacks triggered by exercise
- Attacks triggered by exposure to dust or animal hair and other triggers
- You wake often at night with asthma symptoms
When asthma symptoms get much worse, this is known as an “asthma attack”. A severe asthma attack usually develops slowly, taking 6 to 48 hours to become serious. There are some people for whom asthma symptoms can get worse very quickly.
Managing your Asthma
Having a written asthma self-management plan, developed with your doctor, can help you to know how to best manage your asthma. It can also help you to know what to do in an asthma attack.
In a severe asthma attack, other things may happen such as:
- The reliever inhaler, which is usually blue, does not help symptoms at all.
- The symptoms of wheezing, coughing, tight chest are severe and constant.
- You are too breathless to speak in sentences.
- Your pulse is racing.
- You feel agitated or restless.
- Your lips or fingernails look blue.
Call triple zero (000) to seek immediate help if you or someone else has severe symptoms of asthma.
If you’re not sure whether it’s asthma, follow asthma first aid steps anyway. Asthma reliever medicine shouldn’t harm the person, even if they don’t have asthma and may save their life if they do.
If you think the person is having a severe allergic reaction, use their adrenaline autoinjector (EpiPen). You can then give them their asthma reliever medicine.
Asthma itself is not preventable. However self-care and taking sensible preventative measures can reduce the risk of asthma. They can certainly help reduce the chances of the asthma getting worse. Some of the things you can do to help keep your asthma under control are:
Self-care is an integral part of daily life. It involves taking responsibility for your own health and wellbeing. This is of course with support from the people involved in your care. Self-care is what you do every day to stay fit and maintain good physical and mental health. It is how you prevent illness or accidents and care more effectively for minor ailments and long-term conditions.
A big part of keeping your asthma under control and preventing ‘asthma attacks’ involves preventative measures. These include avoiding known triggers and ensuring you take your preventer medicine every day.
As with all long-term conditions, it is important to have regular reviews. Building a good relationship with your doctor is vital. It ensures that you can easily discuss your symptoms or concerns and adjust your asthma plan.
All people with asthma (or their parents or carers, if children) should consider vaccination against the flu. They should give this particular consideration especially if they have severe asthma. Adults with asthma can also benefit from vaccination against pneumococcal disease in some situations. Vaccination against influenza is free for people with severe asthma and for everyone over 65.
If you are a smoker and you have asthma, you should stop smoking immediately. This will significantly reduce the severity and frequency of your symptoms. Smoking may also reduce the effectiveness of your asthma medication. If you do not smoke and you have asthma, avoid being exposed to tobacco smoke.
If you are concerned that you or someone you know may be developing asthma you should book an appointment to visit your GP.