Asthma

Asthma is a chronic inflammatory disease that affects the airways, causing them to narrow in response to certain stimuli.1 Although asthma is one of the most common chronic diseases of childhood, adults can also develop asthma. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), some 235 million people currently suffer from asthma.2 For some people, asthma is a minor nuisance, for others, it can be a major problem that interferes with their daily activities and could lead to a life-threatening asthma attack.3

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Causes

The root causes of asthma are not fully understood. The major risk factors for developing asthma are a combination of genetic predisposition and exposure to substances and particles in the environment that when inhaled may provoke allergic reactions or irritate the airways, such as:2

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    Tobacco Smoke

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    Dust, pollen and mould

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    Pet dander - animal hair and skin

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    Air Pollution

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    Perfumes and chemical irritants

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    Respiratory illnesses such as the cold or flu

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Symptoms Of An Asthma Attack Include:3

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    Coughing

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    Periods of wheezing

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    Chest tightness

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    Shortness of breath

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Treatment

Doctors may use the term "rescue treatment" to describe treatment of an acute attack and "maintenance treatment" to describe treatments aimed at preventing attacks. Some people need to use more than one drug to prevent and treat their symptoms.4

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Therapy is based on two classes of treatment:

Quick relief medications - these medications work fast to treat sudden symptoms at the onset of an asthma attack or flare up. They are inhaled to help relax the muscles of your airways (bronchi) and provide quick relief of the symptoms.5

Long-term control medications - these medications are used on a regular basis to reduce the inflammation and constriction of the airways that cause asthma symptoms. They can be taken orally, injected or inhaled.5

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Prevention

By working together, you and your doctor can design a step-by-step plan for living with your condition and preventing asthma attacks. Some prevention strategies include:3

Develop and follow an asthma action plan – speak to your doctor about developing a plan for taking your medications and managing possible asthma attacks. Taking control of your treatment can make you feel more relaxed and in control of your life.

Identify and avoid asthma triggers – allergens and irritants such as pollen, mould, cold air and air pollution can trigger asthma attacks. Keep track of the things that cause or worsen your asthma and take steps to avoid those triggers.

Get vaccinated for flu and pneumonia – staying current with vaccinations can prevent these illnesses from triggering asthma attacks.

Monitor your symptoms – learn to recognise the warning signs of an impending attack, such as shortness of breath, wheezing or the urge to cough. Regularly measure and record your peak airflow with a home flow meter. When your peak flow measurements decrease and alert you to an impending attack, take your medication as instructed and immediately stop any activity that may have triggered the attack. If your symptoms don't improve, get medical help.

Take your medication as prescribed – don't change anything without first talking to your doctor and regularly check with him/her to make sure that you are using your medications correctly and taking the right dose/s.

Be aware of increasing quick-relief inhaler use – If you find that you are relying on your quick-relief inhaler more often, it could mean that your asthma is not under control. Speak to your doctor as he/she may need to review your treatment plan.

All people with asthma should have a treatment action plan that was devised in collaboration with their doctor. Such a plan allows you to take control of your own treatment and has been shown to decrease the number of times people need to seek care for asthma in the emergency department.1

References:

1. FDA. Asthma Fact sheet. Available at: https://www.fda.gov/media/116079/download Accessed: 16 July 2019.

2. WHO. Asthma Fact Sheet. Available at: http://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/asthma Accessed: 16 July 2019.

3. Mayo Clinic. Asthma - Symptoms and Causes. Available at: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/asthma/symptoms-causes/syc-20369653 Accessed: 17 July 2019.

4. GINA. Global Strategy for Asthma Management and Prevention. Updated 2019. Available at: https://ginasthma.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/GINA-2019-main-report-June-2019-wms.pdf Accessed: 18 July 2019.

5. Mayo Clinic. Asthma – Diagnosis and Treatment. Available at: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/asthma/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20369660 Accessed: 17 July 2019.