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Asthma

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Asthma
Summary
  • Asthma can cause narrowing of the small airways within the lungs.
  • Asthma affects approximately 1 in 5 children and 1 in 10 adults.
  • Asthma attacks can be caused by irritants including pollens, exercise and dust.
Description

Asthma is a long term disease which can cause narrowing of the small airways within the lungs, leading to episodes of shortness of breath. These episodes may be brought on or made worse by certain trigger factors. 1

Asthma affects approximately 1 in 5 children and 1 in 10 adults. Although there is no cure for Asthma, the condition can be controlled with treatment. Asthma sufferers experience unpredictable attacks of shortness of breath, coughing and wheezing that is caused by inflammation in the airways and constriction or spasming of the small branches of the airways, the bronchi. This spasming of the airways is called bronchospasm and it causes the bronchi to become narrower. The lining of the airways swells and the airways can become blocked with mucus. All of these factors obstruct the normal movement of air in and out of the bronchi, causing a characteristic wheezing sound. 2

Asthma sufferers may not experience any symptoms between these attacks, although some patients experience chronic bronchitis or other respiratory problems 3. Asthma attacks are thought to be initiated by certain 'triggers', which irritate the airways to start an Asthma attack 4. See the Asthma Triggers and Asthma and Food Triggers topics on the Healthpoint for further information.


Possible Causes

Asthma attacks can begin when the airways become irritated. Irritants than can trigger Asthma attacks in some patients include: 5 - a cold or flu-like illness

  • pollens from certain grasses, trees and weeds
  • exercise
  • strong emotion
  • changes in temperature or weather patterns
  • dust or moulds
  • animal fur or skin particles
  • chemical vapours from sprays or fumes
  • passive cigarette smoke
  • certain medications, including aspirin-containing drugs, certain arthritis medications and beta-antagonists (drugs used for high blood pressure and in certain eye drops)
  • food additives such as metabisulfate (MBS) and tartrazine
  • other environmental or industrial chemicals.

Aspirin should not be given to children under 16 years of age unless specified by a Doctor. Aspirin should be avoided in children aged 12 to 15 if they are feverish. 6

  • Management

    In no way is this information intended to replace the advice of a medical practitioner. Always consult your Doctor for diagnosis and advice. Most Asthma patients can control their condition with the appropriate medical treatment and management and Asthma should not be viewed as a major hindrance to a full life. Many top athletes suffer Asthma, but with the appropriate management of their condition they have managed to attain peak physical fitness.

    Your Doctor will measure your lung function to see how well your lungs work. You may be asked to take measurements at home using a peak flow metre. This can help you to identify Asthma triggers by monitoring your breathing during different circumstances and environments. Your Doctor will decide if you need Preventer/Controller medication to help stop inflammation of your airways and may prescribe Reliever medication that can be used during an Asthma attack to open the airways. Your Pharmacist will explain how to use these medications correctly. See the Asthma - Devices and Asthma - Medications topics for further information.

    With your Doctor, you can develop an Asthma Action Plan. This Action Plan will help you avoid or cope with Asthma triggers, how to properly use your Asthma medications and how to take appropriate action when the initial signs of an Asthma attack begin 7 Asthma attacks can sometimes be prevented when the warning signs are recognised and the patient follows their Action Plan. See the Asthma Management topic on the Healthpoint.

    Tell your Doctor about any changes in the severity of your Asthma. Always think ahead and prepare a plan so you know what you will do if your Asthma is out of control and you need help urgently. If your reliever medications don't work during an Asthma attack, call an ambulance. Asthma can be a life threatening illness if appropriate treatment is not sought.


    Lifestyle

    Diet Hints
    • Food is not a common trigger for Asthma. Only 2% of adults and 11% of children with Asthma have an attack because of certain foods. 8 - People with Asthma should eat a well-balanced, nutritious diet that incorporates a wide variety of foods 9.
    • Asthma sufferers with known food 'triggers' should avoid these foods.
    • There is no evidence that dairy foods can trigger or worsen Asthma attacks unless patients have specific allergies to dairy foods 10. Dairy foods are an important source of many essential nutrients and should not be avoided unless an allergy or intolerance has been medically diagnosed.
  • Pharmacist's Advice

    Ask your Pharmacist for advice about:

    1. The correct use of Asthma puffers (or inhalers).
    2. The correct use of a puffer and spacer.
    3. The correct use of a peak flow metre and nebulizer.
    4. The difference between preventer/controller and reliever puffers.
    5. Identifying and avoiding Asthma triggers.
    6. Any other medications you are taking which could affect your Asthma medications.
    7. If you need help to quit smoking, ask your Pharmacist for advice.
  • Notes

    Royal Jelly can cause serious health effects in people with Asthma and other allergic conditions. 11 Echinacea has been shown to trigger Asthma in some people. 12


    Organisations & Support Groups

    Asthma Australia - http://www.asthmaaustralia.org.au/


    References

    1. The Australian Lung Foundation. Controlling Childhood Asthma. [cited 2002 Jan 16]. Available from: URL: http://www.lungnet.org.au/asthma-childhood-health.html.
    2. The Australian Lung Foundation. Controlling Childhood Asthma. [cited 2002 Jan 16]. Available from: URL: http://www.lungnet.org.au/asthma-childhood-health.html.
    3. Kobzik, L. The Lung. In: Cotran et al., editors. Robbins Pathologic Basis of Disease. 6th ed. Pennsylvania: W.B.Saunders Company; 1999.
    4. The Australian Lung Foundation. Controlling Childhood Asthma. [cited 2002 Jan 16]. Available from: URL: http://www.lungnet.org.au/asthma-childhood-health.html.
    5. The Australian Lung Foundation. Controlling Adult Asthma. [cited 2002 Oct 14]. Available from: URL: http://www.lungnet.org.au/Frames/frame_learn-health.htm.
    6. News Summary. Older children should also avoid aspirin. The Pharmaceutical Journal 2002 Apr 27; Vol.268, No.7195:557-561.
    7. The Australian Lung Foundation. Controlling Adult Asthma. [cited 2002 Jan 16]. Available from: URL: http://www.lungnet.org.au/asthma-adult-health.html.
    8. National Asthma Campaign. Nutrition and Asthma. Good Health Tips.[cited 2002 Mar 25]. Available from: URL: http://www.nationalasthma.org.au/publications/dairy/nutrition.html.
    9. National Asthma Campaign. Nutrition and Asthma. Good Health Tips.[cited 2002 Mar 25]. Available from: URL: http://www.nationalasthma.org.au/publications/dairy/nutrition.html.
    10. National Asthma Campaign. Dairy food not common asthma trigger but many GPs 'hedge their bets'. Media Release 3 December 1999.
    11. National Asthma Council Australia. Asthma Management Handbook 2002. Medications that can exacerbate asthma. [cited 2002 Mar 25]. Available from: URL: http://www.nationalasthma.org.au/publications/amh/med_other_4.htm.
    12. National Asthma Council Australia. Asthma Management Handbook 2002. Medications that can exacerbate asthma. [cited 2002 Mar 25]. Available from: URL: http://www.nationalasthma.org.au/publications/amh/med_other_4.htm.
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