Asthma is a common disorder of the lung that can affect people in all age groups but often begins in childhood. Individuals with asthma experience episodes of difficulty breathing, coughing and wheezing.
Asthma is caused by inflammation that develops in the airways. This inflammation results in the airways becoming thickened, swollen and producing more mucous. The nerve endings of the airways become very sensitive and are easily irritated by things like cigarette smoke, cold air or viral infections. These so-called ‘triggers’ can cause the airways to narrow even further and create breathing difficulties.
These symptoms are typically worse at night, especially in the early hours of the morning. Symptoms may also be brought on by exercise, exposure to triggers and by certain medications like aspirin.
Individuals affected by asthma experience variable symptoms. Some are more severely affected than others and even in the same person the symptom frequency and severity may change from day-today. Some individuals ‘outgrow’ their asthma while others do not. Occasionally asthma develops in adulthood for the first time. Asthma may develop from allergies to exposures (allergens) in the workplace such as flour in Baker’s Asthma.
Asthma attacks or exacerbations are when the symptoms of asthma worsen. This may be because of an infection in the airways, exposure to allergens or triggers or due to inadequate treatment.
Asthma attacks can be mild but they may also be very severe and occasionally are fatal. All those affected by asthma need to be able to identify an attack, know how to start treatment at home and be able to assess when they need to seek medical attention.
Your practitioner will help you to develop a Home Asthma Action Plan to give you practical advice to manage an asthma attack.
There are many other conditions that can cause cough and/or wheezing. If you think you or your child may have asthma it is important to be evaluated by a medical practitioner to ensure the correct diagnosis is made. This may involve breathing tests (peak flow readings or lung function testing) and skin prick or blood tests to identify environmental allergies.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for asthma at present. Asthma symptoms, however, can be controlled very well by using the right medications. This is very important to reduce symptoms, avoid hospitalisation and prevent permanent lung damage. When asthma is well controlled an individual can experience good-quality of life and partake in all types of physical activity.
Copyright © Claudia Gray