Everything You Need to Know About Asthma
Did you know that asthma is one of the most common respiratory diseases in the UK? This illness affects around 5 million people in the country.
Asthma (sometimes called Bronchial Asthma) is a long-term, chronic illness that affects the lungs. It’s usually caused by the narrowing of your bronchial tubes - the small airways in your lungs. Breathing becomes harder when you have asthma.
How Air Travels Into Your Lungs
Air enters your body when breathing in through your nose or mouth. The air then passes through your larynx or voice box where it enters your windpipe or trachea. The trachea carries the air into the bronchi in your left and right lungs. The bronchi divide into smaller airways called bronchioles as it goes deeper into your lungs. Finally, the air reaches the air sacs or alveoli where oxygen and carbon dioxide are exchanged.
Asthma usually affects the bronchi, causing these airways to become inflamed. This inflammation makes these airways narrower - giving you a hard time getting air in and out of your lungs. This also causes other asthma symptoms like chest tightness and wheezing.
What Are The Causes of Asthma?
The causes of asthma vary from one person to another. Some of the most common triggers include:
- Weather (especially cold weather)
- Flu and other respiratory infections
- Excessive exercise
- Irritants like smoke and air pollution
- Certain foods and additives
- Certain medications like anti-inflammatory drugs
- Allergens like dust, pet dander, and pollen
Asthma occurs when these triggers or irritants enter your airways, provoking your body to release natural chemicals to deal with it. Unfortunately, for people with asthma, these chemicals also cause the bronchi to contract and become inflamed.
Is Asthma Caused By Genetic Factors?
Several clinical studies show that asthma can run in the family. You are about 70% at risk of developing asthma if there is a history of such illness in your family. Despite this, some people also develop the disease even without it running in their genes. Genetics may play a part but that’s not the only cause of asthma. As you can see above, environmental factors also matter a lot.
What Are The Symptoms Of Asthma?
The common signs and symptoms of asthma include a persistent cough, mild pain or feeling of tightness in the chest, shortness of breath, and wheezing (a whistling sound when breathing).
How can I be sure that these are signs of asthma?
It’s true that the above signs and symptoms can be caused by other complications, not just asthma. Here’s how you can make sure that your symptoms are most likely caused by asthma and not any random illness:
- Your wheezing and coughing is persistent
- Your symptoms feel more intense at night
- Your symptoms return when you exercise excessively or come in contact with allergens or irritants in the air
Is An Asthma Attack Different From Asthma?
During an asthma attack, your asthma symptoms suddenly become worse. During this time, your airways become more inflamed than normal. Your respiratory system also produces more mucus than usual.
In addition, you also experience bronchospasm - the contraction of muscles surrounding your airways - making it even more challenging to breathe. Asthma attacks can be mild or severe. You can deal with mild asthma attacks at home. Severe cases, on the other hand, are life-threatening and will require medical attention right away.
How Do You Treat Asthma?
Asthma is diagnosed by your GP using a series of tests like FeNO test, Peak Flow reading, and Spirometer.
Despite asthma being very common around the world, there is still no cure for this chronic and sometimes life-threatening disease. The available treatments today are designed to help you manage your asthma symptoms so you can get on with your daily life and live normally.
One of the most common treatments for asthma are inhalers which are further classified into three:
The blue inhaler, or Ventolin, is the most common brand of reliever inhaler you see around. This inhaler contains salbutamol as its active ingredient. Salbutamol is an effective and fast-acting drug formulated to help your airways relax so you can breathe normally. Reliever inhalers can relieve your symptoms within minutes.
It’s important to carry a reliever inhaler with you at all times. You’ll never know when your asthma may flare up. Because of its fast-acting properties, reliever inhalers are crucial during emergencies.
There’s a limit on how many times you can use a reliever inhaler in a week. If you find yourself needing to use it more often than prescribed, consult with your doctor.
If you find yourself using reliever inhalers more frequently than normal, your doctor may prescribe you a preventer inhaler instead. This medication contains a corticosteroid, an active ingredient that helps reduce the inflammation and sensitivity of your airways. Preventer inhalers are taken daily.
The combination inhaler is your doctor’s last resort if reliever and preventer inhalers are not helping. These inhalers are administered daily to prevent your asthma symptoms from flaring up as well as provide lasting relief when they do appear. Even if you are prescribed a combination inhaler, we still advise carrying a reliever inhaler with you to take advantage of its fast-acting relief.
Other Available Treatments for Asthma
If inhalers don’t work, your doctor may give your Leukotriene Receptor Antagonists (LTRA) tablets. This medication which is available in tablet or syrup form can be taken daily to help prevent your asthma symptoms from resurfacing. Montelukast (brand name Singulair) is the most common type of LTRA around.
How To Live With Asthma
You can continue to live a normal life even if you have asthma. Here are some tips on how to safely:
- Identify your triggers. Remember that each trigger is different for every person. Get to know yours. Then stay away from your triggers as much as possible.
- Is your asthma worsening or improving? Regular check-ups with your doctor or GP will give you peace of mind and necessary medical intervention; so you can carry on with your daily life.
- Stop smoking. Studies show that smoking can affect the severity and frequency of asthma attacks. There are several treatments to help you stop smoking.
- Always carry a blue inhaler with you. Reliever inhalers are indispensable. Its fast-acting formulation can be very useful if you need immediate relief from your asthma symptoms or if you are in an emergency.
What You Need to Know About Asthma and Covid-19
People who have existing respiratory conditions like asthma are more at risk of getting infected with Covid-19. The government has released guidelines on how to protect yourself and others from the virus. Read it here. Follow these guidelines if you are a high-risk individual.
If you have not been classified and contacted as a high-risk person but have asthma, we urge you to follow public health measures like social distancing and wearing face masks or face coverings to protect yourself and others from the virus.