Updated 5 March 2021

What is Asthma?

Patient with Asthma inhaler
Asthma can be described as a medical condition that affects the respiratory system. This condition occurs when the airways or breathing tubes responsible for conveying oxygen-rich air to the lungs are obstructed. As a result of the obstruction, a person suffering from asthma tends to gasp for air, as they have difficulty breathing. The airways of an asthmatic person may become inflamed when that individual comes in contact with certain triggers (more on this later) that can exacerbate their health problem causing them to cough incessantly, gasp for air, and experience a choking feeling. It is estimated that 1 out of 9 male and/or female Australians currently suffer from asthma while 1 out of 4 kids will be afflicted by asthma. Even adults that never suffered from this health condition as children can still develop asthma in their adulthood.

The Most Prevalent Symptoms of Asthma

The way asthma is triggered may vary from one person to another. However, the symptoms that are experienced by asthma patients regardless of how their asthma condition is triggered is almost always the same. As mentioned above, asthma sufferers experience symptoms such as coughing, a choking feeling, difficulty in catching their breath, wheezing, or a tightness of the chest. The symptoms that asthma patients experience are commonly triggered by respiratory infections, allergy related triggers, cigarette smoke and exercise. Whatever the case may be, an asthma trigger can cause a person to encounter any one or all three of the following symptoms:

#1. Airways Muscle Contraction:

These triggers can cause asthmatic patients to experience a tightening of their airways as the muscles in their breathing tubes contract and become narrow, which significantly reduces the amount of air that flows through the airways to the lungs.

#2. Inflammation of Airways:

Asthma can also involve a thickening of the airways. This is caused by the inflammation of the breathing tubes which prevents air from passing through to the lungs and causing the asthma patient to gasp for air or wheeze.

#3. Congestion of Airways:

It is possible that the airways fill with mucus which causes a congestion of the breathing tubes leading to the lungs. As a result of this congestion, the asthma patient would be unable to breathe properly.

How is Asthma Contracted?

The good news is, asthma is not a communicable disease. So a person with asthma cannot transmit asthma to others that they come into physical contact with. However, asthma can be hereditary, and families with a history of asthma tend to have descendants with the medical condition. While you cannot contract asthma from touching, hugging, or even kissing a person with asthma, pregnant women can increase the risk of their unborn child having asthma in their childhood if they smoke cigarettes for example during pregnancy. Premature babies born with a birth weight that is lower than normal are more prone to developing asthma in their childhood. In addition, infants and young children are at a greater risk of coming down with asthma if they are exposed to smoke from cigarettes at such a tender age. Also, frequent exposure to mold and air pollutants can make children susceptible to developing asthma. While children are vulnerable to asthma, adults with no family history of asthma are also known to develop the medical condition. This may be due to frequent exposure to dust particles and other air pollutants at home or even at work. Asthma is also known to afflict athletes especially those that are engaged in high-intensity training for a long period of time usually after a few years. If such athletes were exposed to dry or cold air as well as air pollutants over time and during their training, then they may develop asthma as a consequence.

A Summary of Common Asthma Triggers

  • Smoke - such as cigarette smoke, car exhaust fumes, smoke from bushfires, and so on.
  • Respiratory infections such as colds and flu,
  • Intense exercise and workout sessions,
  • Exposure to irritants and chemicals such as perfumes, household cleaning products, epoxy resins, aerosol, and so on.
  • Allergens - including dust particles, mould, certain foods, pollen, and so on.

Asthma Tests & Diagnosis

If Asthma is suspected, it is important to see a doctor for a full assessment to determine whether you may have Asthma. The diagnosis of Asthma is made by your doctor getting a comprehensive history from you and then performing an examination. In certain circumstances and depending upon age, your doctor is also able to arrange lung function tests (spirometry) which may help to diagnose Asthma. Your doctor may also advise an allergy test to be performed in order to determine any allergic triggers responsible for your asthma. In the case of young children below the age of 5 years, a doctor may decide to perform a treatment trial whereby an asthma medication is prescribed to see how the child responds to treatment. The doctor then makes use of the results from the treatment trial in diagnosing the child's condition. Where the child responded quickly to the prescribed medication(s), the diagnosis by the doctor may be asthma.
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Treatment of Asthma

  1. Treatment of asthma usually involves the use of medication. This involves the use of asthma controllers, preventers (anti-inflammatory medication like prednisolone which is a corticosteroids), and relievers (such as salbutamol - ventolin inhaler).
  2. When treating asthma it is important to stay clear of possible asthma triggers. Avoid exposure to your known asthma triggers. This is a good way of controlling your asthma and preventing attacks.
Asthma action plan: This is an extremely important component of treatment. This helps the person with asthma or their carer recognise worsening symptoms and gives clear instructions on how to manage it.

Recovery from an Asthma Attack 

To recover adequately from asthma, it is best to follow your doctor's written instructions in your personalised asthma action plan.

Complications of Asthma

When the symptoms of asthma are not managed properly, it can adversely affect the quality of your life. The possible complications of asthma include:
  • Insomnia,
  • Exhaustion and fatigue,
  • Poor lung activity and function,
  • A significant drop-off in your level of productivity especially in school or at work,
  • A lack of motivation to engage in any form of exercise or physical activity, which can lead to obesity,
  • Negative effects on your state of mental health causing depression, mood swings, and anxiety.
On a final note, while it is important to use your medication as recommended by your doctor, it is also equally important to identify and avoid possible asthma triggers. This way the quality of your life will improve for the better.
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