What You Need To Know About Asthma

What you need to know about asthma

Asthma is a common breathing disorder that is rampant in various parts of the world. As per the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, around 2.7 million Australian residents (11% of the population) have asthma. Asthma causes almost 400 deaths a year, having a mortality rate of 1.3 per 100,000 individuals. It tends to develop between the ages of 2 to 7 but can present at any age.

The numbers indicate that asthma is a serious ailment and needs to be managed well. But what actually is asthma?

What is asthma?

Asthma is the name given to a chronic (long-term) respiratory disease (of the lungs and air passages). It is also referred to as bronchial asthma.

This disease is characterized by inflammation and narrowing of the airways that make it hard to breathe. The symptoms are more pronounced during physical activity.

asthma airway blockage

Airways get blocked by narrowing and mucus.

This narrowing and inflammation can be attributed to different factors and severe asthma can be lethal if left untreated. The three major signs of asthma include:

Airway blockage

The tightened airways of the respiratory tract (in an asthma patient) make it hard for the air to pass, thereby, causing an airway blockage.

Airway inflammation

The continuous airway inflammation (bronchial tube inflammation) and airway remodeling lead to airway hyper-responsiveness (AHR) which also adds to airway narrowing. The inflammation is also responsible for causing lung damage.

Airway hyper-responsiveness

People suffering from prolonged airway inflammation develop airway hyperresponsiveness or irritability. The outcome of this response is an overreaction to even the slightest trigger.

Is asthma genetic?

Researchers are in a constant struggle to find out the genetic origins of asthma. Some studies show that asthma should be analyzed in the context of developmental and genetic factors. Recent advances have found links with other allergic disease. There are clearly components of the asthma that are genetic, although these inherited components do not follow the direct inheritance patterns of disorders like cystic fibrosis.

What does it feel like to have asthma?

Asthma symptoms

Asthma manifests itself in the following forms:

  • Shortness of breath (especially in the morning)
  • Coughing and wheezing
  • Chest tightness

Most patients suffer from intermittent or seasonal Asthma. In most cases, the symptoms are seen when the patient is exposed to some kind of a trigger.

Asthma attack

It is an episode of shortness of breath caused by contraction of respiratory tract muscles i.e. bronchospasm. After exposure to a trigger/allergen, a cascade of events takes place which includes bronchospasm, airway inflammation, and excessive mucus production. All of these procedures cause typical asthma symptoms (shortness of breath, coughing and wheezing).

Triggers for asthma

Some of the most common asthma triggers include:

  • Cold air
  • Infections such as the common cold
  • Irritants such as cigarette smoke and perfumes
  • Exercise
  • Acid reflux
  • Some medications – asprin, anti-inflammatories, beta-blockers
  • Stress
  • Air pollutants, wood dust, flour dust chemicals, animal dander
  • Food allergens

Is there a cure for asthma?

Currently, there is no cure for asthma. This means that medical science is unable to completely eradicate the disease from your body. The mainstay of the treatment is the management of the disease by minimizing airway inflammation and frequency of symptoms.

The treatment modalities are also aimed at reducing long-term lung damage that is caused by poorly controlled asthma. You can have a good quality of life by following the below-given tips for managing asthma:

The 5 pillars of good asthma management

Managing asthma can be tricky, especially for those having frequent asthma attacks and poorly controlled conditions. The following tips can help you recover from an asthma attack and prevent them from occurring in the future.

1.  Reliever medications (short-term treatment with an Asthma puffer)

Your doctor will prescribe you relieving medications that provide instant relief in case of an acute asthma attack. These fast-acting, short-term medications include:

Fast-acting bronchodilators

As the name indicates, bronchodilators such as Ventolin are medicines that dilate the bronchial tubes (respiratory tract), thereby, making breathing easier. These bronchodilators are available in the form of metered dose inhalers. It is strongly recommended to use you inhaler with the assistance of a volumatic spacer. This greatly increases the effectiveness of the medicine.

Asthma patients are recommended to keep a bronchodilator inhaler with them at all times.

Preventer medications in asthma

Use a spacer, even for adults, they make the medicine much more effective.

2.  Asthma preventer medications (long-term treatment)

Inhaled corticosteroids are the cornerstone of asthma treatment. This treatment modality includes the following drugs:

Inhaled corticosteroids

These medications treat the main underlying issues of asthma – chronic airway inflammation, mucus and airway hyper-reactivity. Patients who are using reliever medications regularly are strongly recommended to add an inhaled preventer medication to reduce the frequency and severity of attacks.

Types of inhaled corticosteroids include

  • beclomethasone
  • budesonide
  • ciclesonide
  • fluticasone

They are generally available as metered dose inhalers, turbuhalers and accuhalers and are taken once or twice a day as directed by your doctor.

Long-term treatment can also consist of long term bronchodilators and corticosteroids. The combination of bronchodilators such as salbutamol and steroids is available in commercially prepared inhalers. Long-acting inhalers keep the airways open for a longer period of time and can be used as preventive medicines.

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3.  Stop smoking

Giving up on bad habits is crucial to living a full life with asthma. The greatest enemy of asthmatic patients is tobacco smoke. Smoking not only enhances the disease but also multiplies the lung damage being caused by the disease.

Patients must stop smoking.

stop smoking in asthma

4.  Exercise

Exercising regularly can greatly improve asthma symptoms and quality of life. Research suggests that following an exercise plan on a daily basis leads to significant improvements in asthma symptoms and lung function in young adults.

5.  Following an asthma management plan

It’s vital that you see your doctor regularly and follow an asthma management plan. An asthma management plan can benefit you by:

  • Identifying your asthma triggers and avoiding them.
  • Treating and achieving good control with a low dose inhaled corticosteroid.
  • Knowing how to manage asthma symptoms when they escalate.
  • Knowing how to manage an asthma attack.

Getting asthma medication delivery to your doorstep

Did you know asthma medications can be delivered to your home?

Make it easy to keep on top of your medications. Medmate can organise express pharmacy delivery for all your required medicines right to your doorstep.

Conclusion

Asthma is a chronic disease of the respiratory tract. Asthma symptoms are characterized by bronchospasm, inflammation, and excess mucus production. Currently, there is no known cure for the disease, however, a good asthma management plan will use the lowest amount of medications possible to prevent symptoms and maintain a normal quality of life.

Author

Dr Ganesh Naidoo

Dr Ganesh Naidoo BSc(biomed), MBBS, FRACGP is an Australian General Practitioner. He has significant clinical experience in multiple regions of Australia and has a passion for health transformation to improve clinical outcomes for all patients.

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