A chronic disease that restricts your airways, asthma affects 1 in 9 Australians and causes thousands of hospitalisations each year. While there is no cure for the condition, it can be controlled and managed with medicine, regular GP visits and most importantly – an asthma action plan. Asthma can affect both children and adults, but more commonly presents in children.
When triggered, asthma sufferers find it harder to breathe in and out. It’s similar to trying to breathe through a thin straw. Those who suffer from asthma commonly experience;
- Tightening of the chest
- Shortness of breath
These symptoms occur because the airways become narrow. While there are two different types of asthma – allergy and non-allergy induced – the symptoms are the same.
Asthma triggers are not one-size fits all and can vary for each person:
- Cold / Flu: Respiratory illnesses affect asthma sufferers far more than the average person, with the common cold causing the majority of asthma attacks.
- Exercise: While this is a common trigger, asthma symptoms can usually be controlled by taking extra medication and warming up properly. It shouldn’t stop you from getting out and about.
- Cigarette smoke: Asthmatic lungs are particularly sensitive and vulnerable to cigarette smoke.
- Allergens: Allergens affect approximately two out of five Australians, including most people with asthma. Allergies occur when your immune system reacts to substances such as grass, pollen, mould or house dust mites.
What causes asthma
It is not known what causes asthma, but it can be genetic. The risk of a child developing asthma is increased by a number of factors, including exposure to smoke (particularly while pregnant), air pollution, damp living conditions or being premature.
While it’s more common that asthma will develop early on in life, it can also present in adults from exposure to indoor air pollution – eg; excessive fumes or dust.
What is an asthma attack?
If not treated effectively and quickly, asthma can be fatal. Asthma attacks don’t go away by themselves and require treatment. They can come on quickly or develop gradually over hours or even days.
With an asthma flare up, your airways (or the passage that transports air to the lungs) can:
- Tighten: The thin layer of muscle inside each airway contracts, restricting your breathing
- Thicken: The lining of the airway tubes swell and become inflamed, reducing the space to breathe through.
- Fill up: The tubes can fill up with mucus.
With some asthma attacks, all of the above can happen at the same time. In this instance, having an asthma action plan is vital. A severe asthma attack needs urgent treatment most likely at hospital.
Asthma treatment and an asthma action plan
When it comes to managing asthma, medicine is vital. Long-term asthma treatment is designed to keep your lungs healthy, keep symptoms at bay and to prevent attacks.
All asthma sufferers should have an up-to-date written asthma action plan with clear instructions on what to do if symptoms worsen or flare up suddenly. While asthma is a chronic condition, if it’s managed properly, sufferers can lead a relatively normal life without the condition affecting their work, school or personal life.
If you believe you or your child might suffer from asthma or you’d like advice on a management plan, the GPs at Beach Street Family Practice can assist. To book an appointment, give us a call on 02 66 54 1282 or book online here.