-3 million Canadians have asthma or ten percent of the population. -There’s no cure for asthma, but it can be managed -Over 500 Canadians die from asthma attacks each year, but most asthma related deaths are preventable with compliance to medication and proper medical care -You can still lead a completely normal life with asthma. 20% of Olympic athletes have asthma.
-Asthma is a chronic lung condition. Despite many myths, you can’t outgrow asthma. A person’s symptoms may lessen or even disappear as they grow older, but may return at a later time. Once you have asthma, you’ll always have it. -Asthma is known as a reversible reactive airway obstructive condition. Asthma symptoms reverse either with medication or time. -Asthma basically means a person’s muscles surrounding the bronchioles constrict and make it harder to breathe. -Everyone with asthma is different and asthma is a variable condition. Symptoms range from mild intermittent—symptoms less than twice a week—to persistent asthma that can be mild—symptoms more than twice a week but not daily, moderate—daily symptoms or severe—continuous symptoms. -Asthma can be developed at any age.
Symptoms of asthma are typically a persistent cough—sometimes more-so at night or in the morning—shortness of breath with or without exertion, wheezing—a whistling noise when breathing, and chest tightness. Not everyone has all of the symptoms above, and any of the symptoms are a good enough reason to get checked out by a doctor. If the doctor thinks you have asthma, he or she may do a chest x-ray to rule out other respiratory diseases, and sometimes along with pulmonary function tests are used to diagnose asthma. In many cases, asthma is diagnosed by discussing symptoms with the doctor and a physical exam.
Bronchoconstriction is the cause of asthma symptoms. Bronchoconstriction occurs when a person is exposed to a trigger. A person with asthma’s airways are more sensitive than normal-- triggers make the muscles surrounding the airways twitch and contract. The bronchioles produce extra mucus, and all of this makes the already red and inflamed airways constrict more and cause an asthma flare.
There are many things that can cause asthma symptoms, and everyone’s asthma triggers are unique. Allergic triggers are dust mites, mould, certain foods, animal dander and pollen. Non-Allergic triggers are exercise, infections like colds and flu, cold or humid air, intense emotions, medications like aspirin and beta-blockers, hormones, air pollution and occupational irritants such as paint or chemicals.
Exercise can cause asthma symptoms in people who have no other asthma triggers—simply put, they have exercise induced asthma. Exercise can also be a trigger for people who have mild, moderate or severe asthma. It is believed that when you exercise you breathe through your mouth to get more oxygen into your body. When breathing normally, we mostly breathe through our nose so the air is warmed. The cool air entering rapidly when breathing speeds up irritates the airways and asthma symptoms occur. Alot of the time, exercise induced flare ups can be prevented. If your doctor instructs you to, take medication 5-15 minutes before exercise. Warm up and cool down gradually for 10-20 minutes before and after exercise If you have a flare up, stop and take your medication. Don’t start again until you feel better, and warm up fully before starting. If you have a second flare up, it’s safe to take your medicine again, but call it quits for the day.
Asthma can’t be cured, but it can be treated using medication and avoiding things you know trigger your asthma if possible.
Rescue, reliever or quick relief medications are usually carried by all times by people with asthma. They contain a medicine called a bronchodilator that reverses symptoms fast because they’re inhaled directly to the lungs and make breathing easier. They begin working immediately in the lungs and full relief is usually felt at 5-10 minutes. Rescue medication is used for sudden asthma symptoms and to prevent exercise induced flare ups.
Controller medications prevent asthma symptoms from starting in the first place and are taken daily by people with persistent asthma. Most controller medications contain corticosteroids—which aren’t the same as anabolic steroids. Corticosteroids are made naturally in the body, but people with asthma need some extra in their lungs. Typically, corticosteroids are inhaled, but in the event of a severe asthma episode or hard to control asthma, they can be given in stronger doses in pill form to reverse symptoms. Sometimes corticosteroids alone aren’t enough and something has to be added on to get asthma in control. Long-acting bronchodilators work for 12 hours in the same way a rescue inhaler does, but have many more risks than other forms of asthma therapy and always should be paired with an inhaled corticosteroid. Singulair is a pill that is taken each evening to prevent asthma symptoms and can be an alternative or an add on to corticosteroids. Leukotriene Receptor Antagonists or leukotriene modifiers change the way a person’s airways react to triggers like pollen so they don’t experience asthma symptoms. All of the above medications work gradually and won’t help a person breathe during an asthma flare.
If you have asthma, control is important to live an active and healthy life. Except for exercise, avoid triggers as much as possible. Exercise is important for everyone, and changes in your asthma treatment can be made so asthma doesn’t bother you during activity. Exercise in many cases can improve asthma. Take medications as prescribed by your doctor, and stick with it. If you’re not seeing results, your doctor may make changes in your asthma treatment. If your asthma is in control, it shouldn’t stop you from doing anything—you may just have to take an extra step or two in managing your asthma to get towards your goals. It’s important to find a doctor who will help you get your asthma in control and keep it there. Stay in contact with your doctor, especially when trying to get your asthma under control.