What is asthma?
Asthma is a condition characterised by reduced airflow, increased sensitivity of the airways to several possible triggers, and inflammation of the airways. This can make breathing difficult.
As an allergy, asthma can be triggered by substances in the air. Common triggers include house dust mites, pollen, and animal fur. Other things that can cause asthma symptoms include tobacco smoke, air pollution, fumes from chemicals (such as bleach), exercise, colds and chest infections.
What are the symptoms?
The principal symptoms of asthma are attacks of noisy breathing and episodic shortness of breath. Symptoms are usually worst during the night, especially in uncontrolled disease. Cough is a frequent symptom that sometimes predominates. Attacks vary greatly in frequency and duration. Some people only have one or two attacks a year that last for a few hours, while others have attacks lasting for weeks. Symptoms may be long-standing and persistent, on top of which there are fluctuations.
Asthma is a major cause of impaired quality of life with impact on work and recreational, as well as physical activities, and emotions. If you feel your asthma is getting out of control very quickly and your usual treatments aren’t working, you should see your doctor or seek emergency treatment straight away.
What treatments work?
The aims of treatment are to:
- Abolish symptoms
- Restore normal or best possible lung function
- Reduce the risk of severe attacks
- Minimize absence from work and normal activities.
- Patient and family education about asthma
- Patient and family participation in treatment
- Avoidance of identified causes where possible
- Use of the lowest effective doses of convenient medications to minimize short-term and long-term side-effects.
Doctors use what they call a ‘stepwise’ approach to treating asthma. If you’re still getting symptoms with your usual medicine, you may need to take a higher dose or an extra drug for a while. This is called ‘stepping up’. It doesn’t mean you’ll always need to take more medicine. Once your asthma is under control your doctor may ‘step down’ your treatment.
It’s important to have regular follow-ups with your doctor to make sure your asthma is well controlled.
There are quick-relief inhalers to use when you get attacks. They contain a type of drug called a short-acting beta-2 agonist like salbutamol. You should carry your inhaler with you at all times. If you get symptoms two times a week or less, or with exercise, this may be all the treatment you need.
Your doctor may suggest a preventer treatment if attacks occur more than two times a week. This however doesn’t help stop an asthma attack once it has started. The best preventer treatment is a corticosteroid inhaler. These are helpful in reducing inflammation, and may reduce how much you need to use a quick-relief inhaler.
Possible side effects of a steroid inhaler include a sore throat, a hoarse or croaky voice, and a fungal infection (thrush) in your mouth or your throat. You can reduce your chance of getting these side effects by gargling with water after using the steroid inhaler. There are other types of inhalers and also tablets which may be prescribed in addition to or as an alternative to prevent asthma symptoms. But steroid inhalers are usually the preferred treatment.
Things you can do for yourself
Learning as much as you can about asthma can help you get better control over your condition. It is always said that the best doctor for your asthma is yourself. You should know the things that trigger the attacks and avoid them as much as possible.
up’ (for example, if you are using your quick-relief inhaler more than usual), and when you should seek emergency treatment.
You can help keep your asthma under control by taking your medicine properly and regularly. If you find your symptoms are becoming more troublesome (for example, if asthma is waking you up at night), you should see your doctor.
You might be able to prevent the attacks from getting out of hand by taking early action whenever they come. Identify the conditions that have made your asthma get suddenly worse, such as common cold, and report to your doctor the next time you get the earliest signs of these conditions.
What will happen to me?
Asthma can be managed effectively. If you avoid the triggers, follow your treatment plan and have regular check-ups with your doctor, you should be able to live a full and active life.