Spring has sprung – much earlier than in previous years – and with it, an early asthma season! If you are exposed to one of your “triggers”, you might be experiencing one or more of these symptoms: coughing, wheezing, chest tightness, shortness of breath and difficulty breathing. These symptoms are what characterize asthma – a chronic inflammatory disease of the airway.
In someone with normal lung function, air travels from the nose and mouth, through the windpipe before moving into the bronchial tubes. These tubes branch off into smaller and smaller tubes ending in tiny air sacs in the lungs where oxygen is passed to the blood and carbon dioxide is removed from it.
People with asthma, reacting to “triggers”, have trouble breathing because the air flow is obstructed as it passes in and out of the lungs. This happens because of one or both of the following. The lining of the airways becomes inflamed (irritated, reddened and swollen) and may produce more mucous. The more inflammation, the more sensitive the airway becomes and the more symptoms. Or, the muscles that surround the airways become sensitive and start to twitch and tighten, causing the airways to narrow. This usually occurs if the inflammation is not treated.
Asthma “triggers” fall into two groups: irritants and allergens. Some irritants include: smoke, cold air, chemical fumes and other strong-smelling substances like scented products, certain food additives like sulphites, exercise, intense emotions, and certain air pollutants. Some allergens include: dust mites, animals, moulds, pollens, viral respiratory infections, and certain air pollutants.
Asthma has no set pattern. Symptoms can vary from time to time and situation to situation. Not all people who have asthma have these symptoms. Likewise, having these symptoms doesn’t always mean that you have asthma. But, it is important to treat symptoms when you first notice them so they don’t become severe. With proper treatment, most people who have asthma can expect to have few, if any, symptoms either during the day or at night.
You can’t prevent asthma but you can control it and live a full active life. The trick is learning how to keep the asthma symptom- free. Learn about asthma. There’s a huge amount of information available at your doctor’s office and at reputable websites. Avoid your asthma “triggers.” For example, if poor outdoor air is a problem, the Environment Canada website gives a daily assessment of air quality for your region so you can avoid outdoor activity when necessary. Take your medication as directed; follow the asthma action plan that you develop with your health care provider; and have regular asthma checkups with your doctor so he or she can assess your level of asthma control and adjust your treatment as needed. Patients with asthma should be living normal lives – and that includes people with moderate and even severe asthma.
Contributed by the Agassiz Health centre