A chronic inflammatory disease of the airway, asthma affects about 3 million Canadians, according to the Asthma Society of Canada. While anyone can get asthma, it’s typically diagnosed in young people. When asthma is not properly controlled, it can be life-threatening; asthma kills about 500 Canadians annually. By managing the condition, most people can control their asthma, reducing the number of asthma attacks and living a healthy active life.
Asthma causes No one knows what causes asthma. When people with asthma are in the presence of their triggers, they have trouble breathing because the flow of air is obstructed when it passes in and out of the lungs. This can occur because the lining of the airways is inflamed and produces more mucous and/or when the muscles around the airways tighten, causing the airways to narrow, which makes it difficult for the asthma sufferer to breath. If you have allergies or eczema or a close relative, such as a parent with allergies and/or asthma, you’re at increased risk for developing it.
Asthma symptoms If you have asthma, you may experience wheezing, coughing, chest tightness and shortness of breath. Asthma symptoms can range from mild to severe and vary from person to person and one episode to the next. You may have symptoms frequently or they may disappear for long time periods.
Asthma diagnosis/tests If you suspect you might be asthmatic, talk to your doctor about your symptoms. She will evaluate your medical history and ask about your family’s and will rule out other medical conditions, such as heart disease and pneumonia. She’ll also check your lung function using tests such as peak flow monitoring to see how quickly your body can expel air.
Asthma treatment There is no cure for asthma but with the right steps, it’s possible to live symptom-free.
• TriggersYour doctor will talk to you about avoiding your triggers to reduce your symptoms (see Prevention).
• Medication You will be prescribed medication to help manage your symptoms. Oral medication, including Leukotriene Receptor Antagonists (LTRAs) are taken daily to reduce airway inflammation and symptoms over time. Asthma inhalers, containing inhaled corticosteroids, help manage symptoms, such as wheezing, immediately, but do not treat the underlying issue of the inflammation. If you rely on them more over time, it may mean your asthma is getting worse; talk to your doctor.
• Action plan Your doctor may also discuss a written action plan, a personalized strategy for managing your condition, which outlines how to identify the state of your asthma and the steps to take to help you get it under control, such as seeking medical attention.
Asthma prevention It’s important to understand what triggers bring on your asthma attacks so you can avoid them and reduce your symptoms. While triggers vary, these are common:
• Cigarette smoke Don’t smoke and avoid second-hand smoke which can trigger an attack.
• Animals Exposure to animal dander, fur, saliva and other triggers from cats, dogs, rabbits and other furry creatures can significantly affect asthma. Reducing the time you spend with animals — even finding Fido a new home if necessary — can help effectively manage your asthma symptoms.
• Moulds A type of fungus found in damp, humid environments, moulds release spores in the air which can start an asthma attack. Keep your living areas mould-free and dry and avoid exposure to outdoor moulds by removing grass and leaves from your lawn and keeping your garbage cans clean.
• Pollens Created by trees, grasses and weeds, airborne pollens can trigger asthma when you inhale them into your lungs. Avoid outdoor exercise when the pollen count is high, use a HEPA-filtered air cleaner and an air conditioner and keep your windows closed.
• Cold air Stay indoors for exercise on cold days and if you’re outside, try breathing through your nose or wear a scarf to help warm the air you breath, which makes it easier on your lungs.
• Air pollution The pollutants in the air may worsen your symptoms. To minimize your exposure, spend less time outdoors when the air quality health index is high, and use your air conditioner at home and in your car.