What Is Asthma?
Asthma is a long-term disease of the lungs. It causes the airways to get inflamed and narrow, and it makes it hard to breathe. You might hear your doctor call it a chronic respiratory disease. Some people refer to asthma as “bronchial asthma.”
What Does Asthma Attack Feel Like?
An asthma attack is the episode in which bands of muscle around the airways are triggered to tighten. This tightening is called Bronchospasm. During the attack, the lining of the airways becomes swollen or inflamed, and the cells lining the airways make more and thicker mucus than normal. Bronchospasm, inflammation, and mucus production cause symptoms such as trouble breathing, wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath, and trouble with normal daily activities. Other symptoms of an asthma attack include: Severe wheezing when breathing both in and out, Coughing that won’t stop, Very rapid breathing, Chest pain or pressure, Tightened neck and chest muscles, called retractions, Difficulty talking, Feelings of anxiety or panic, Pale, sweaty face and/or Blue lips or fingernails. You need to see your doctor if you have any of these mentioned symptoms.
An asthma attack can get worse quickly, so it’s important to treat these symptoms right away. Without immediate treatment, such as with your asthma inhaler or bronchodilator, it will become harder to breathe. If you use a peak flow meter at this time, the reading will probably be less than 50%. Many asthma action plans suggest interventions starting at 80% of normal with a Peak flow meter. As your lungs continue to tighten, there is not enough air movement to make wheezing. You need to go to a hospital right away. Unfortunately, some people think that the disappearance of wheezing is a sign of improvement and don’t get emergency care.
Asthma is serious, and it’s important to know the facts. World Health Organization recognizes that asthma is of major public health importance. According to WHO, it was estimated that more than 339 million people had Asthma globally (1) and there were 417,918 deaths due to asthma at the global level in 2016. (3, 4)Although asthma cannot be cured, it is possible to manage asthma to reduce and prevent asthma attacks, also called episodes or exacerbations.1
This year’s World Asthma Day theme is “Uncovering Asthma Misconceptions”. The theme provides a call to action to address common widely held myths and misconceptions concerning asthma that prevent persons with asthma from enjoying optimal benefit from the major advances in the management of this condition.
Common misconceptions surrounding asthma include:
- Asthma is a childhood disease; individuals will grow out of it as they age.
- Asthma is infectious.
- Asthma sufferers should not exercise.
- Asthma is only controllable with high dose steroids.
The Truth is:
- Asthma can occur at any age (in children, adolescents, adults and elderly)
- Asthma is not infectious. However, viral respiratory infections (such as common cold and the flu) can cause asthma attacks. In children, asthma is frequently associated with allergy, but asthma which starts adulthood is less often allergic.
- When asthma is well controlled, asthma subjects are able to exercise and even perform top sport.
- Asthma is most often controllable with low dose inhaled steroids
Let’s also clear the air on some of the more persistent myths about asthma.
Myth 1: Your child only needs their puffer during an asthma attack.
This is an easily misunderstood topic as kids are given two asthma puffers which serve different purposes.
“The reliever puffer is to treat symptoms as soon as they flare up to avoid a full-blown asthma attack, whereas the preventer –the use of nebules with a Nebulizer is for everyday use and calms inflammation and sensitivity in airways,” says Eric Chan.
Myth 2: Any type of cough could be a sign of asthma.
This is a commonly held myth which can lead to parents fearing the worst. While coughing is a sign of asthma it matters what kind of cough it is.
“Be on the lookout for a dry non-productive cough that causes swelling of the airways. This is also recognizable as a high-pitched wheezing,” says Chan.
Myth 3: Children with asthma should avoid all types of exercise.
While a lot of parents would say that exercise is no good for an asthmatic child, experts say differently. According to a recent Norwegian study, it was shown that regular cardiovascular exercise, such as running, may actually improve asthma symptoms in children.
“However, care should definitely be taken in winter months as cold, dry air can irritate the airways. Make sure your child has reliever medication 15 minutes before warming up, and keep an eye out for symptoms.”
Myth 4: Most asthmatic children will outgrow their symptoms by adulthood.
People of all ages have asthma, not just children! While symptoms may lessen as one eases into adulthood it does not mean the asthma won’t ever return.