Asthma is a chronic inflammatory disease of the lungs, and one of the most common conditions in Australia.

You might have only been recently diagnosed, or have been dealing with it for a long time, but there is a lot to understand about asthma and great ways to manage how it affects you.

Who gets asthma?

  • 1 in 10 adults and 1 in 9 children are affected
  • Allergies and asthma are closely linked – it’s more common in families with lots of allergies, though people with asthma don’t necessarily have allergies
  • Adults of any age can develop asthma – even if they didn’t have it as a child
  • Some children have significant asthma, but it tends to improve with no symptoms as an adult
  • Many pre-school children who have a wheeze do not have asthma by the time they reach primary school
  • Indoor and outdoor pollution (mould, gases, chemicals, particles/dust and cigarette smoke) can increase the risk of developing asthma
  • Athletes can develop asthma after very intensive training over years, especially when inhaling polluted, cold or dry air

What are the symptoms of asthma?

The commonest symptoms of asthma are;

  • Wheezing – a continuous high pitched noise while breathing. Typically when breathing out, but can also be on breathing in
  • Shortness of breath – feeling like there just isn’t enough air
  • Tightness in the chest
  • Coughing

You don’t actually need all of the symptoms to be diagnosed with asthma

Noisy or rattling breathing in pre-school children can be common, and is usually because they don’t know how to swallow or cough up their saliva or phlegm. This can occur in healthy babies, is not the same as wheezing and does not mean they have asthma.

What causes asthma symptoms?

The increased symptoms of asthma are usually when the inflammation in the airways (which is present almost all the time) worsens, and they become narrower. This makes it difficult to get the air in and out, which causes the shortness of breath and tightness, the air moves faster causing a wheeze, and there is often mucous secreted from the airways that can cause the cough or even phlegm.

Triggers are varied but can include;

  • Viral infections like colds and influenza
  • Cigarette smoke
  • Dust
  • Allergies and pollen
  • Cold air
  • Exercise

So how is asthma diagnosed?

If you feel like your breathing isn’t right, or any of the above symptoms apply to you, let your doctor know.

Asthma is diagnosed using a combination of the clinical history, physical examination, and special tests known as peak flow and spirometry.

How is asthma managed?

Asthma as mentioned before is a chronic condition, so even when you don’t feel you have significant symptoms, the airways are still inflamed generally.

One important thing is to be prepared for any known triggers. If you know that when hayfever season approaches you start to get wheezy, then managing your allergies will help. If you know that you begin to get tightness when you go for a jog, then using your reliever before you run can help.

However the management relies on two groups of medications.

Preventers, and relievers.

Preventer medications reduce the inflammation and are used daily. There are inhaled medications and tablets.

If the asthma is really well controlled you can take breaks from this under the direction of your doctor.

Reliever medications are used to bring about quick resolution of symptoms. If you’re beginning to wheeze, cough, or are feeling tight in the chest – you use this medication. The blue puffer is most common.

However as everyone is unique, and everyone has different triggers and severity, it’s important to make an asthma action plan that covers all scenarios including emergencies.

Book in with your doctor at GS Health to make an asthma action plan.

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