Asthma is very common, affecting around one in 10 Australians (that’s more than two million people) but how to tell if you have asthma?
Studies have shown asthma is slightly more common in boys than girls, but after puberty, it’s more common in women than men.
What is asthma?
Asthma is an inflammatory disease of the airways. During an asthmatic episode, the passage from the mouth and nose to the lungs narrows and therefore doesn’t function normally, reducing air flow.
The narrowing of the airways is caused by:
- Smooth muscle spasm
- Airway swelling as a result of oedema (fluid and proteins deposited across the airway wall), mucus hypersecretion, or muscle and mucous gland enlargement.
Childhood asthma is very common, with 30% of all children having a form of asthma at some stage. Watching for any allergies a child may have is important to help asthma sufferers avoid triggers which may prompt an asthma attack.
More than half of children with mild asthma will be free of symptoms or have only mild wheezing later in life, but moderate or severe asthma rarely goes away by itself. Even if your child is feeling better, it is important not to abruptly stop treatments without seeking medical advice, as this could result in the return of symptoms. Always stick to the asthma plan created for you and your family by your GP.
Symptoms of asthma
During an attack, an asthma sufferer may have the following symptoms:
- Shortness of breath
- Tightness in the chest
Common asthma triggers include:
- Inhaled allergens (dust mites, pollens and moulds)
- Cigarette smoke
- Changes in temperature and weather
- Respiratory tract infections
- Chemicals and food preservatives
- Acid reflux.
A GP will listen for any wheezing in the chest however wheezing is not always part of an asthma attack. Doctors can also assess lungs and their air capacity with an instrument that measures how well lungs function. Most asthma sufferers over the age of seven will undergo this lung function test.
Allergy tests may also help to make a diagnosis. Allergens are introduced into the skin via a series of pin pricks. If the spot becomes red, that means the person is allergic to that allergen. Identifying what you’re allergic to can help sufferers avoid triggers in the future.
There are several aspects of asthma treatment, including:
- Having an action plan
- Using appropriate medication
- Education about asthma
- Not smoking
- Diet and exercise
- Regular check-ups with your GP.
Medicating asthma sufferers
There are four main types of medication used for asthma sufferers, including:
- Reliever medicines. Reliving asthma symptoms by relaxing tight airways, keeping them open for up to 4-6 hours (usually taken during an attack)
- Preventer medicines. Usually taken as a daily preventative, making airways less sensitive and helping reduce swelling and mucus production
- Symptom controller medicines. Used as a daily preventer to relieve asthma symptoms by relaxing tight airways and keeping them open for up to 12 hours
- Combination medicine. A combination of preventer and symptom controller medications.
Most asthma medications come in an inhaler device, helping to quickly reach the lungs. These are sometimes referred to as puffers. Many younger and older people also use a spacer to ensure effective delivery of the medication.
Even after years of using an inhaler, many people still use them incorrectly. The medical experts at 13 DOCTOR recommend patients contact their GP or pharmacist to ensure the medication is being taken correctly. If you need more advice, you can book an online doctor consult with our medical experts at 13 DOCTOR via video conferencing or phone call.
The chance of an asthma sufferer having serious side effects from inhalers is very rare. Occasionally, steroid puffers can cause a fungal infection in the mouth. Sufferers are recommended to use a spacer with a preventer to reduce the chances of a fungal infection.