What is asthma?
Asthma is a chronic lung condition that causes a person’s airways to become inflamed and extra
sensitive. During an attack, the airways narrow, obstructing the flow of air and making it
difficult to breath. Airways narrow due to the occurrence of one or all of the following:
The lining of the airways become swollen.
The inflamed lung tissues produce more mucus which builds up in the airways.
The muscles that surround the airways tighten causing the airways to narrow.
Who is most likely to get asthma?
Although it is often first diagnosed in children, asthma can affect anyone and develop at any
age. It is estimated that about three million Canadians suffer from asthma. What causes asthma
is unknown, however researchers have concluded that both hereditary and environmental
factors on lead to asthma.
If a parent has asthma, you may inherit a tendency to develop asthma. If both
parents have asthma, it is highly likely that you will too.
You may develop asthma if you are exposed to one or more personal triggers.
Triggers can be anything inside or outside, at home or at work. Occasionally, people who have
jobs that expose them to triggers in the workplace develop what is known as occupational
What are the symptoms of asthma?
Symptoms vary from person to person and from episode to episode. They can be either mild or
severe and can include the following:
Tightness or heaviness in chest
Shortness of breath
Wheezing sound when you breathe
If you think you may have asthma, visit your doctor. He will evaluate your symptoms along with
your medical history and perform lung-function tests before making a diagnosis.
What are asthma triggers?
A trigger is anything or any condition that can cause an asthma attack. It is important for
asthma sufferers to recognize their personal triggers in order to avoid them. Triggers are
divided into three different categories:
1. Allergens –
This group consists of things that a person is allergic to. They cause the body
to react, irritating airways or tightening the surrounding muscles. Allergens can include
Animals – Pets such as cats, dogs, gerbils, hamsters, rabbits, mice, guinea pigs, and
even birds can make asthma worse. It is recommended that families with an asthma
worse. It is recommended that families with an asthma sufferer remove pets from
Pollen – Asthma sufferers who are allergic to pollen should stay inside during
periods of high pollen counts. Using air conditioners in your home and car, and
keeping the windows closed during peak periods is very helpful.
Mold – Molds are found in damp areas such as basements, garbage containers, and
shower stalls. Frequent cleaning, low household humidity, and increased airflow to
damp areas will reduce the growth of molds.
Dust mites – Dust mites accumulate in places such as carpets, pillows, bedding,
mattresses, and stuffed animals. Vacuum floors and furniture frequently. If
symptoms are severe, consider removing the carpets. Bedding should be washed
weekly in hot water, and mattresses can be enclosed in impermeable casings. Low
humidity is also effective, as dust mites can’t survive in dry environments.
Foods and food additives – certain foods can cause reactions and trigger asthma
attacks. Be aware of what you are eating, especially in restaurants and where
someone else is preparing the food. Food additives such as coloring, preservatives,
and MSG have also been known to cause asthma attacks in some people.
Certain medications – Some medications can induce asthma attacks. Make sure you
inform health professionals who may be prescribing medications for you, that you
2. Irritants –
Consist of things that can bother just about anyone but can bring on an attack
for asthma sufferers. Irritants can include the following:
Smoke – First or secondhand smoke is responsible for many asthma attacks. If you
have asthma and you smoke, you should quit. To avoid second-hand smoke, don’t
allow smoking in your home or car, and stay away from smoky public places.
Strong fumes – Fumes from chemicals or perfumes either in the home or an on the
job can irritate the lungs and trigger an asthma attack. It is important to avoid such
fumes in order to control your asthma.
Air pollution – On days where the air quality is poor, asthma sufferers should try to
stay indoors as much as possible. Using air conditioners and keeping windows closed
can also help.
Cold air – Cold air can trigger an asthma attack. If you must go outside, try breathing
through your nose to warm the air before it reaches your lungs. Breathing through a
scarf can help moisten the air also making it easier on your lungs.
3. Non-environmental triggers –
These are additional things that can induce asthma
attacks. Examples can include the following:
Emotional stress – Emotions such as anxiety, fear, and excitement can trigger
asthma. Relaxation techniques, like deep breathing, are helpful to control such
Colds and chest infections – These often lead to worse asthma symptoms, especially
in children. Discuss these situations with your doctor and create a plan for handling
Exercise – some people experience exercise induced asthma. Temperature,
humidity, and how long you exercise are contributing factors to these attacks. It is
important to realize that the benefits of regular exercise usually outweigh the risks.
Exercise improves the efficiency of your heart and lungs and increases your ability to
relax. They key to exercising with asthma is controlling your asthma.
How do asthma medications work?
There are two types of medications used to treat asthma. Each type treats a separate part of
the condition. Most people with asthma require both.
Also called preventers, controllers are used to treat the underlying inflammation
of the airways. They do not provide quick relief of symptoms in an asthma attack. They are
taken every day whether you have symptoms or not, and constantly work to prevent attacks.
These medications are used only when necessary. They provide temporary relief for
the symptoms of asthma during an attack but do not reduce the inflammation in the airways.
Knowing the difference between the two types of medications and understanding why both are
used is important. If your controller medication is successful and you recognize and avoid your
asthma triggers, over time, your reliever medication will be required less and less.
How is asthma controlled?
Most people with asthma live full and active lives, many symptom-free. To do this, you must
learn how to control your asthma. Controlling asthma is accomplished by:
Avoid asthma triggers – Get to know your asthma triggers. Avoiding them will reduce your
Taking medication –
Take both your controller and reliever medications as prescribed by your
Know your condition. Understand the use of peak-flow meters, spacer devices, and
other tools available to help control asthma.
Using an asthma action plan –
Developed by you and your doctor, this plan will help you to
manage your asthma and react to changing symptoms. Once you commit to controlling your
asthma, you are ready to regain control of your life. This commitment is the key to your future.