Asthma – Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis & Treatment
Asthma awareness in Nigeria by Asset Pharmacy is part of the World Asthma Day (WAD) (May 3, 2022) is organized by the Global Initiative for Asthma, (GINA) (www.ginasthma.org), a World Health Organization collaborative organization founded in 1993. WAD is held each May to raise awareness of Asthma worldwide.
Asthma is a common lung condition that causes occasional breathing difficulties.
It affects people of all ages and often starts in childhood, although it can also develop for the first time in adults.
There’s currently no cure, but there are simple treatments that can help keep the symptoms under control so it does not have a big impact on your life.
What are the symptoms of Asthma?
Asthma is a condition that affects the breathing process in people of all ages. For some, it’s only an issue when their asthma becomes worse due to factors like stress or infection; for others this chronic illness can cause difficulty at almost any time during day-to-day life
The most common symptoms of asthma are:
- wheezing (a whistling sound when breathing)
- a tight chest – it may feel like a band is tightening around it
Many things can cause these symptoms, but they’re more likely to be asthma if they:
- happen often and keep coming back
- are worse at night and early in the morning
- seem to happen in response to an asthma trigger like exercise or an allergy (such as to pollen or animal fur)
The symptoms can sometimes get temporarily worse. This is known as an asthma attack.
Asthma can sometimes get worse for a short time – this is known as an asthma attack. It can happen suddenly, or gradually over a few days.
Signs of a severe asthma attack include:
See a doctor if you think you or your child may have asthma.
Several conditions can cause similar symptoms, so it’s important to get a proper diagnosis and correct treatment.
What are the causes of Asthma?
The exact cause of asthma is unknown.
People with asthma have swollen (inflamed) and “sensitive” airways that become narrow and clogged with sticky mucus in response to certain triggers.
Genetics, pollution and modern hygiene standards have been suggested as causes, but there’s not currently enough evidence to know if any of these do cause asthma.
WHO’S AT RISK?
A number of things can increase your chances of getting asthma. These include:
- having an allergy-related condition, such as eczema, a food allergy or hay fever – these are known as atopic conditions
- having a family history of asthma or atopic conditions
- having had bronchiolitis – a common childhood lung infection
- exposure to tobacco smoke as a child
- your mother smoking during pregnancy
- being born prematurely (before 37 weeks) or with a low birthweight
Some people may also be at risk of developing asthma through their job.
Asthma symptoms often occur in response to a trigger. Common triggers include:
- infections like colds and flu
- allergies – such as to pollen, dust mites, animal fur or feathers
- smoke, fumes and pollution
- medicines – particularly anti-inflammatory painkillers like ibuprofen and aspirin
- emotions, including stress, or laughter
- weather – such as sudden changes in temperature, cold air, wind, thunderstorms, heat and humidity
- mould or damp
Once you know your triggers, trying to avoid them may help control your asthma symptoms.
Asthma UK has more information on asthma triggers.
In some cases, asthma is associated with substances you may be exposed to at work. This is known as occupational asthma.
Some of the most common causes of occupational asthma include:
- isocyanates (chemicals often found in spray paint)
- flour and grain dust
- colophony (a substance often found in solder fumes)
- wood dust
Paint sprayers, bakers, pastry makers, nurses, chemical workers, animal handlers, timber workers, welders and food processing workers are all examples of people who may have a higher risk of being exposed to these substances.
How is Asthma Diagnosed?
Asthma can usually be diagnosed from your symptoms and some simple tests.
Your Doctor will probably be able to diagnose it, but they may refer you to a specialist if they’re not sure.
Your Doctor may ask:
- what symptoms you have
- when they happen and how often
- if anything seems to trigger them
- if you have conditions such as eczema or allergies, or a family history of them
They may suggest doing some tests to confirm if you have asthma.
These can’t always be done easily in young children, so your child may be given an asthma inhaler to see if it helps relieve their symptoms until they’re old enough to have the tests.
What are the treatments for Asthma?
There’s currently no cure for asthma, but treatment can help control the symptoms so you’re able to live a normal, active life.
Inhalers – devices that let you breathe in medicine – are the main treatment. Tablets and other treatments may also be needed if your asthma is severe.
You’ll usually create a personal action plan with your doctor or asthma nurse. This includes information about your medicines, how to monitor your condition and what to do if you have an asthma attack.
Inhalers can help:
- relieve symptoms when they occur (reliever inhalers)
- stop symptoms developing (preventer inhalers)
Some people need an inhaler that does both (combination inhalers).
Most people with asthma will be given a reliever inhaler. These are usually blue.
You use a reliever inhaler to treat your symptoms when they occur. They should relieve your symptoms within a few minutes.
Tell your Doctor or asthma nurse if you have to use your reliever inhaler 3 or more times a week. They may suggest additional treatment, such as a preventer inhaler.
Reliever inhalers have few side effects, but they can sometimes cause shaking or a fast heartbeat for a few minutes after they’re used.
If you need to use a reliever inhaler often, you may also need a preventer inhaler.
You use a preventer inhaler every day to reduce the inflammation and sensitivity of your airways, which stops your symptoms occurring. It’s important to use it even when you don’t have symptoms.
Speak to your Doctor or asthma nurse if you continue to have symptoms while using a preventer inhaler.
Preventer inhalers contain steroid medicine. They don’t usually have side effects but can sometimes cause:
- a fungal infection of the mouth or throat (oral thrush)
- a hoarse voice
- a sore throat
You can help prevent these side effects by using a spacer– a hollow plastic tube you attach to your inhaler – as well as by rinsing your mouth or cleaning your teeth after using your inhaler.
If using reliever and preventer inhalers doesn’t control your asthma, you may need an inhaler that combines both.
Combination inhalers are used every day to help stop symptoms occurring and provide long-lasting relief if they do occur.
It’s important to use it regularly, even if you don’t have symptoms.
Side effects of combination inhalers are similar to those of reliever and preventer inhalers.
You may also need to take tablets if using an inhaler alone isn’t helping control your symptoms.
LTRAs are the main tablets used for asthma. They also come in syrup and powder form.
You take them every day to help stop your symptoms occurring.
Possible side effects include tummy aches and headaches.
Theophylline may also be recommended if other treatments aren’t helping to control your symptoms.
It’s taken every day to stop your symptoms occurring.
Possible side effects include headaches and feeling sick.
Steroid tablets may be recommended if other treatments aren’t helping to control your symptoms.
They can be taken either:
- as an immediate treatment when you have an asthma attack
- every day as a long-term treatment to prevent symptoms – this is usually only necessary if you have very severe asthma and inhalers don’t control your symptoms
Long-term or frequent use of steroid tablets can occasionally cause side effects such as:
- increased appetite, leading to weight gain
- easy bruising
- mood changes
- fragile bones (osteoporosis)
- high blood pressure
You’ll be monitored regularly while taking steroid tablets to check for signs of any problems.
Other treatments, such as injections or surgery, are rarely needed but may be recommended if all other treatments aren’t helping.
Several complementary therapies have been suggested as possible treatments for asthma, including:
- breathing exercises – such as techniques called the Papworth method and the Buteyko method
- traditional Chinese herbal medicine
- ionisers – devices that use an electric current to charge molecules of air
- manual therapies – such as chiropractic
- dietary supplements
There’s little evidence to suggest many of these treatments help.
There’s some evidence that breathing exercises can improve symptoms and reduce the need for reliever medicines in some people, but they shouldn’t be used instead of your medicine.
For more information, please speak to our pharmacist or your doctor.