An estimated 2.7 million Australians (accounting for 10.7% of the nation’s total population) are affected by asthma, a chronic disease that affects the respiratory system and can lead to serious health problems if not properly managed. Uncontrolled asthma is one of the leading causes of hospital admissions in Australian children.
Understanding the signs and symptoms of asthma can help you get the treatment you need and prevent unexpected and potentially life-threatening asthma attacks.
What is Asthma?
Asthma is a chronic inflammatory disease of the airways that makes breathing difficult. The airways are tubes that carry air in and out of your lungs. The walls of these tubes become inflamed and narrow in asthmatic individuals. This makes it hard to breathe and can trigger an asthma attack.
What is an Asthma Attack?
An asthma attack is when your asthma symptoms suddenly worsen or increase in frequency, which can quickly lead to an emergency. Asthma attacks can be triggered by several things, including cold air, exercise, allergens, and air pollution.
The airways narrow during an asthma attack, causing respiratory distress. The body may also produce more mucus, further blocking the airways.
Signs and Symptoms of Asthma
While asthma attacks are relatively easy to identify, it is crucial to recognise the signs and symptoms of asthma before an attack occurs. It can also help you determine if you have the disease and seek asthma treatment. The most notable signs and symptoms of asthma include:
- Wheezing: Wheezing is a high-pitched whistling sound made when you breathe, caused by the airways’ narrowing.
- Coughing: A persistent cough not caused by cold and flu is often the first sign of asthma, which can be worse at night or early in the morning.
- Shortness of breath: Shortness of breath is a feeling of not being able to get enough air. This can happen suddenly or gradually.
- Chest tightness: Chest tightness is a feeling of pressure or discomfort in the chest.
- Frequent nighttime wakefulness: People with asthma may often wake up at night coughing or wheezing. This can lead to daytime fatigue and extreme lethargy.
- Sighing: Sighing is a deep breath taken to relieve shortness of breath. Frequent sighing may mean your body isn’t getting enough oxygen.
- Nasal flaring: Nasal flaring is when the nostrils open wider than normal when trying to breathe in.
- Anxiety: Anxiety can be a symptom of asthma, as shortness of breath and chest tightness can cause feelings of panic. Anxiety or depression symptoms can also linger due to fear of another asthma attack.
Since asthma attacks can be dangerous, it is important to be aware of potential triggers. Asthma attacks can be caused by several things, including:
- Allergens: Allergens are substances that can trigger an asthma attack. Common allergens include pollen, dust mites, pet dander, and mould.
- Cold air: Cold air causes constriction of the airways, leading to asthma attacks. Dry air, which often accompanies cold weather, can worsen this effect.
- Exercise: Exercise can trigger an asthma attack by causing the airways to constrict.
- Air pollution: Air pollution can inflame the airways and trigger an asthma attack.
How Can I Treat Asthma?
While asthma cannot be cured, your doctor can create a chronic disease management plan, including medication and lifestyle changes. Asthma treatment means patients must take medication daily to control their asthma symptoms. Some people with asthma may also need to carry a rescue inhaler for sudden attacks.
If you think you or your child may have asthma, it is essential to consult your GP. They will be able to give a diagnosis and develop an asthma treatment plan.
If you have been prescribed medication for asthma, it is important to take it as directed. Medications will not work if they are not taken as prescribed. There are several common asthma medications, with your doctor prescribing the best one for you based on factors such as age, other health conditions, and the severity of your asthma.
The most common asthma treatment medications include:
- Corticosteroids: Corticosteroids are steroids that assist in chronic disease management by reducing airway inflammation. Common corticosteroids include prednisone, prednisolone, methylprednisolone, and dexamethasone. They are typically inhaled.
- Long-acting beta agonists (LABAs): These medications are bronchodilators, meaning they help relax the muscles that control your airways. Most often, these are used in combination with inhaled corticosteroids.
- Short-acting beta-agonists (SABAs): Unlike LABAs, which are taken daily for chronic disease management, SABAs are intended for use during an asthma attack. These are commonly called rescue inhalers. The two primary SABAs are albuterol and levalbuterol.
Create an Asthma Action Plan
An asthma action plan is a document that outlines what you will do in the event of an asthma attack. It is important to have an asthma action plan and to share it with family, friends, and co-workers; however, an estimated 71% of Australians with asthma do not have a plan. Here is an example of what an asthma action plan can look like:
- Stick to your medication routine: Take your medications as prescribed. This is the best way to prevent asthma attacks and keep your asthma symptoms under control.
- Identify triggers: Work with your doctor to identify your triggers. These can be things like smoke, dust, and pollen. Once you know what triggers your asthma, you can avoid them or take steps to reduce your exposure.
- Monitor your asthma symptoms: Keep a close eye on your asthma symptoms. If you notice them worsening, take action immediately. This may mean using your rescue inhaler or taking a short-acting bronchodilator.
- Be prepared for an attack: Have a plan for what to do in case of an asthma attack. This may include taking medication and seeking medical help if needed. Ensure all family members know the plan and how to execute it if needed.
- Get vaccinated for trigger conditions: Stay up to date on your vaccinations. This is especially important for influenza and pneumonia, which can trigger serious asthma attacks.
By following these steps, you can create an asthma action plan to help you manage your condition and prevent asthma attacks.
Manage Your Asthma Symptoms With True Health Medical Practice
At True Health Medical Practice, we understand that living with asthma can be challenging. We can help you manage your asthma symptoms and improve your quality of life. Our team of experienced doctors will work with you to develop a treatment plan that is right for you.
If you need help with your asthma, we encourage you to call us today at (02) 9358-5221 to schedule an appointment. We look forward to helping you breathe easier.
Note: Any surgical or invasive procedure carries risks. Before proceeding, you should seek a second opinion from an appropriately qualified health practitioner.
Asthma – Australian Bureau of Statistics
ACT Children and Young People – Leading Causes of Hospitalizations
Asthma – Causes and Triggers
Experts Urge Australians With Asthma to Get Their Action Plan in Place in Lead-Up to New Year
What Medications Are Used for Asthma Treatment and Management?
What Are Asthma Symptoms?
Asthma Action Plans