Asthma is a common lung condition that occurs when the smaller airways in the lungs (called bronchioles) become narrow making breathing difficult. Muscle spasms, excess mucous production and inflammation within these airways usually cause them to narrow, restricting air flow and interrupting the steady supply of oxygen to the lungs.

The condition is most commonly found in children; however, adults can be affected too. Over two million Australians suffer from asthma.

Mature man treating asthma with inhaler

To date there is no known cause of asthma, however, researchers believe that a family history of asthma, environmental factors, allergies, or eczema may contribute to its development.

Allergies and asthma often occur together. In fact over 80 per cent of sufferers show signs of allergy.

Breathing in allergy-causing substances called allergens can trigger or set off an asthma attack in susceptible individuals. Basically, these are substances that when inhaled are recognised by the immune system and cause an allergic reaction.

All asthma sufferers have their own set of triggers but some common ones include:

  • Colds
  • Smoking (including passive smoking)
  • Dust mites
  • Pollen
  • Cockroaches
  • Animal dander
  • Feathers
  • Moulds
  • Changes in the weather
  • Usually, asthmatics experience asthma in varying ways and degrees of severity, but common symptoms include:
  • Wheezing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Tightening of the chest
  • Coughing

Although at present there is no cure for asthma, with good management, the right treatment and an active commitment to control their own symptoms, asthma sufferers can lead a healthy life. Fortunately, there are treatment options available such as:

Relievers – medications designed for use during an asthma attack. Relievers relax the airways making it easier to breathe. These are generally inhaled.

Preventers – medications intended for everyday use, preventers, as the name suggests, help prevent an asthma attack.

Controllers – taken with preventer medication when the preventer cannot relieve symptoms on its own.

Like most medications, there are many different varieties of each of these treatments available. Your doctor can prescribe the most effective medicine, or combination of medicines, for you.

As well as taking medication, it is also important for asthma sufferers to have an Asthma Action Plan. This is written in consultation with your doctor and provides personalised directions to prevent and manage asthma attacks. It highlights your medication needs and helps you to identify and handle symptoms and respond to an attack.

Asthma sufferers also need to understand what triggers their asthma (this can be different for everyone) and avoid or reduce their exposure to these triggers.

It is important to seek medical advice if you or someone you know is showing signs of asthma. If left untreated, the airway can suffer permanent damage and you can develop many complications.


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