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Asthma

Definition

Asthma is a condition that causes sensitivity of the airways in the lungs. When exposed to certain triggers these airways narrow, making it hard to breathe.

Description

When a person with asthma comes into contact with something that irritates their airways (an asthma trigger), the muscles around the walls of the airways tighten so that the airways become narrower and the lining of the airways becomes inflamed and starts to swell. Sometimes sticky mucus or phlegm builds up which can further narrow the airways.

Causes

The exact cause of Asthma is not completely understood. Asthma is one of a group of allergic conditions, including eczema and hayfever, which often occur together. A family history of Asthma, eczema or allergies, increases the risk of person developing Asthma. Research shows that smoking during pregnancy increases the child's risk of developing asthma. Children whose parents smoke are also more likely to develop the condition.

Common Triggers

Asthma triggers can vary between people. Common triggers include;

  • Colds and flu (especially in children)
  • CExercise (this can be managed)
  • CPollens, moulds and grasses
  • CAnimal fur and dander (skin flakes)
  • CDust mites
  • CCigarette smoke
  • CChanges in air temperature and weather
  • CCertain drugs e.g aspirin and certain blood pressure medications
  • CSome chemicals, strong smells and aerosol sprays
  • CSome occupations
  • CSome emotions e.g stress

Sometimes it can be difficult to know what is triggering your Asthma. Ask your Doctor for advice.

Signs and Symptoms

Common symptoms of asthma include:

  • Coughing,
  • Wheezing,
  • Shortness of breath, and
  • Tightness in the chest.

Treatment Options

In no way is this information intended to replace the advice of a medical practitioner. Always consult your Doctor for diagnosis and advice. Although there is no cure for Asthma, there are some excellent medicines available to help control the symptoms so that is does not interfere with daily life. Good Asthma management allows a person to lead an active, healthy lifestyle.

If you or your child experience symptoms that could be due to Asthma, it is important to get advice from your GP. There is no simple test for asthma. It is diagnosed by your Doctor after examination, and taking into account how and when symptoms occur.

Managing Asthma

Good Asthma management involves;

  • Taking Asthma medications. See the Asthma Medications and Devices topic.
  • Monitoring your Asthma
  • Staying active and healthy
  • Avoiding triggers where possible. See the Asthma Triggers topic.
  • Having a written Asthma Action Plan
  • Visiting your Doctor regularly – at least every 6 months when well.

Asthma Action Plan

An Asthma Action Plan can be written with your Doctor or nurse. It should provide clear information on your Asthma medicines, how to tell if your symptoms are getting worse, what you should do if your symptoms do get worse, and what you should do in the case of an Asthma attack.

Diet Hints

  • Food is not a common trigger for Asthma. Only 2% of adults and 11% of children with Asthma have an attack because of certain foods.
  • People with Asthma should eat a well-balanced, nutritious diet that incorporates a wide variety of foods.
  • Asthma sufferers with known food 'triggers' should avoid these foods.
  • There is no evidence that dairy foods can trigger or worsen Asthma attacks unless patients have specific allergies to dairy foods. Dairy foods are an important source of many essential nutrients and should not be avoided unless an allergy or intolerance has been medically diagnosed.
  • See the Asthma and Food Triggers topic on the Healthpoint for further information.

Notes

Royal Jelly can cause serious health effects in people with Asthma and other allergic conditions.

Echinacea has been shown to trigger Asthma in some people.

Pharmacist's Advice

Ask your Pharmacist for advice:

  1. The correct use of Asthma puffers (or inhalers).
  2. The correct use of a puffer and spacer.
  3. The correct use of a peak flow metre and nebulizer.
  4. The difference between preventer/controller and reliever puffers.
  5. Identifying and avoiding Asthma triggers.
  6. Any other medications you are taking which could affect your Asthma medications.
  7. If you need help to quit smoking, ask your Pharmacist for advice.
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