Imagine having times when you struggle to breathe. This is the life of a person with asthma. For some it can be a mild inconvenience whereas for others it can be a life threatening condition.

What Is Asthma?

Asthma is a chronic lung condition that affects the airways, the tubes that carry air into and out of the lungs. In asthma, these airways can become narrowed due to either inflammation, muscle tightening, or excess mucous production, making it difficult for the air to move freely.  A person suffering from asthma can have all the above-mentioned issues, making it difficult for a person to breathe and restricting the supply of oxygen to the lungs.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, around 2.7 million (1 in 9) Australians from different age groups suffer from asthma. There is no definitive reason as to why a person contracts asthma but is widely inclined to genetics and a history of allergies. Asthma is common in children though it is tough to diagnose for children below 5. Asthma can start at any age and with good maintenance can be kept in control.

There are some variations in the intensity with which asthma can attack a person. The severity ranges from mild to life-threatening. A flare-up is when the symptom of asthma gets worse leading to an asthma attack. A person who has asthma should immediately contact a doctor and start their medication for asthma. Depending on the severity, the number of flareups, other health conditions, and triggers, a doctor may suggest reliever medications  or preventer medications  Reliever medications are used to quickly relieve symptoms during an asthma attack, and preventer medications are taken daily to control the condition and reduce the frequency of attacks. Inhalers are a common delivery method, but pills may also be prescribed based on individual needs.

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What Triggers Asthma?

There are a wide range of triggers causing asthma. People who fall sick with springtime hay fever have a higher probability of becoming asthmatic. Here are some of the triggers of asthma: 

  • Pollen, pet dander, air pollution, viruses, aerosols, perfumes
  • Cold, flu, or other respiratory infections
  • Cigarette smoke
  • Allergens
  • Exercise
  • Changes in weather
  • Bushfire smoke
  • Medicines that are used for certain conditions (eg. NSAIDs)
  • Work-related triggers such as using chemicals, wood smoke, etc.
  • Stress and high emotions

What Are The Signs And Symptoms Of A Person Who Might Have Asthma?

The signs and symptoms of an asthma patient are often ignored by them when the condition is mild, attributing those symptoms to cold, flu, or a person being unfit. It is important to be conscious of the symptoms and get access to a doctor immediately after recognizing them. 

Some of the symptoms of mild/moderate/severe asthma are:

1. Wheezing

A shrill sound comes when a person breathes, almost like a whistle. Wheezing is also common during cough and common cold.

2. Shortness of breath

Due to the narrowing of the airways, the person affected by asthma would find it difficult to breathe, restricting the amount of oxygen intake.

3. Tightness in the chest

Ever felt as if someone is sitting on your chest, that heavy feeling in the chest could be due to asthma.

4. Coughing

In cases of mild to moderate asthma, a person may experience a persistent cough but still be able to speak in full sentences. However, severe asthma may prevent someone from speaking a full sentence due to intense coughing.

5. Trouble sleeping at night due to the shortness of breath.

6. Exercise-induced asthma:

Not being able to do moderate exercise such as jogging or walking which will lead to gasping for air. Feeling tired even with mild exercise could be a symptom of asthma.

7. Pet-induced asthma:

Not being able to play or be around cats or dogs as their dander would affect the airways.

8. Cigarette smoke:

Not being able to breathe well after smoking or after inhaling second-hand smoke. Children whose mothers smoke during their pregnancy are more likely to have an asthma attack.

9. Feeling upset, irritable, sad and grumpy.

10. Allergy or cold-related symptoms such as sneezing, running nose, irritation in the nasal glands, sore throat, headache, nasal congestion, etc.

How To Manage Your Asthma?

Asthma once contracted can only be managed as there is no cure for this condition. A person should contact a doctor immediately if they find any of the above symptoms in themselves or their children. A doctor may ask for the patient to take a spirometry test to understand the extent to which the airways are blocked. It is difficult to diagnose asthma in children below 5, but the doctor will look at family history and other relevant diagnoses to start the child on medication before the symptoms get worse. When not maintained well, asthma could cause regular flare ups making normal life difficult. Here are some ways you can regulate asthma and keep it in check:

Being conscious and identifying your triggers: Be conscious of the signs, symptoms, and surroundings. Maintain a diary and regularly update it to understand what is triggering your asthma. Asthma could be triggered by various things at various times, so it is important to understand and be aware of all the triggers.

Be healthy: Adopting a healthy lifestyle can complement asthma management, but it is important to personalise exercise and diet regimes based on individual needs and medical conditions. Consulting a GP can help assist with determining the most suitable approach.

Know your dosage and your medicine: Understanding the medicine, its dosage, and what to do when things worsen is important for an asthmatic patient. In the case of children, it is important to share these details with their school, caretaker, teacher, and more.

Have an asthma action plan ready: The doctor will suggest an asthmatic patient have their action plan ready. An asthma action plan will have information on a person’s medicines and their dosage. It will have details on what to do during a flare-up and when things turn to worse. The action plan consists of the doctor’s information along with the emergency contact numbers, date, and instructions to follow when it gets life-threatening.

With good care and management, asthma can be kept in check and an asthmatic patient can live a normal, healthy life.

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1. Australian Bureau of Statistics, Reference Link, asthma accessed on 10th October 2023

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This content is created for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the guidance of your doctor or other qualified health professional with any questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition. For emergencies please immediately contact 000.