Approximately 235 million people suffer from asthma worldwide. Asthma is the most common chronic disease among children and one of the major noncommunicable diseases worldwide.
About World Asthma Day
World asthma day was started in 1998 by the Global Initiative for Asthma (GINA) and has since been marked on the first Tuesday of May. This day was set aside to create public awareness on asthma and enhance quality of care in asthma management around the world. 1st May marks this year’s world asthma day with the theme focusing on asthma control; which ways are more effective to treat and control asthma and how to prevent yourself from getting the disease.
What is Asthma?
Asthma is a chronic disease which is characterised by recurrent attacks of breathlessness and wheezing which vary in frequency and severity depending on the individual. The symptoms for this disease can occur several times in a day or a week and include:
Shortness of breath
Wheezing or coughing which make it hard to sleep
A whistling sound when exhaling
Pain in the chest
Feeling tightness of the chest
Causes of Asthma
The exact cause of this disease is unknown, but there are a number of risk factors that can lead to a person becoming asthmatic. These factors are as follows:
Exposure to substances that can provoke allergic reactions such as tobacco smoke
Chemicals in the workplace
Outdoor allergens like pollen
Indoor allergens like pets and dust mites
Other factors that can trigger asthma include:
Extreme emotional onset
Breathing in cold air
Reducing these factors that act as asthma triggers, can reduce the severity of the condition.
Diagnosis of Asthma
Asthma is often under-diagnosed and under-treated which leads to it being severe and in extreme circumstances can even cause death.
Diagnosis of asthma is done following the steps below:
Initial doctor’s consultation: During the consultation, the doctor finds out your medical history, the symptoms you are experiencing and any other information that can help in the diagnosis. The doctor also carries out a physical exam by listening to your breathing using a stethoscope, examining your nose and skin for any signs of allergic reactions. After this, the doctor can then have other tests done to determine whether you indeed have asthma or another condition.
Spirometry: This test is mainly used to diagnose asthma in people from 5 years and above. The person inhales and forcefully exhales into a tube connected to the spirometer which records the volume of air exhales and the speed at which the person exhaled. If the measurements are below normal, then that may indicate narrowing of the airways by asthma. The doctor and then ask the person to inhale an asthma drug to open the airways and do the test again. If there is significant improvement in the breathing, it could indicate that the person has asthma.
Challenge test: If the spirometry test results are normal, the doctor can try to trigger the asthma symptoms by making a person inhale a substance that causes the airways to narrow such as methacholine.
Exhaled nitric oxide test: This test, also known as the FeNO test, involves a person breathing into a tube that is connected to a machine which measures the amount of nitric oxide gas in the breath and if there are high levels of the gas than normal, that could indicate that the person has asthma.
Other tests can be carried out to rule out other conditions. These tests include:
Chest and sinus x-rays
Imaging tests to scan the lungs
Sputum induction and examination to check for any viral or bacterial infection
Gastroesophageal reflux assessment to check whether you have
Asthma has no cure; however, it can be controlled enabling those who are asthmatic to live normal lives. Failure to adhere to appropriate asthma treatment can lead to death. You can control your asthma through:
Inhalers: These are devices that help you to breathe. The two types of inhalers are:
1. Reliever inhalers which relieve asthma symptoms. People who use reliever inhalers 3 or more times a week can be given additional treatment like preventer inhalers. Reliever inhalers can at times cause shaking or fast heartbeat for few minutes after they are used.
2. Preventer inhalers which stop the symptoms from occurring by reducing inflammation and sensitivity of the airways. These inhalers contain steroid medicine and at times they can cause a sore throat, hoarse voice and oral thrush which is a fungal infection of the mouth or throat.
3. Combination inhalers: As the name suggests, these inhalers are a combination of reliever and preventer inhalers and are used to stop symptoms from occurring and provide fast relieve if they do occur.
Tablets: If the inhaler alone is not helping to control the asthma symptoms, tablets can be given. Some examples of asthma tablets are theophylline which is take daily to stop the occurrence of the symptoms,
1. Steroid tablets which can be taken as immediate treatment or as a long-term treatment for people with severe asthma.
2. Leukotriene receptor antagonists (LTRAs) which also help in stopping asthma symptoms and can be in syrup form.
Other treatments that can be used to control asthma include injections given every few weeks to people with severe asthma. However, they are not favourable for everyone with asthma and an asthma specialist has to determine whether you can use these injections.
Over 80% of asthmas occur in low and middle-income countries and if urgent action is not taken, deaths will continue to increase. It is therefore essential to help educate people on this condition and make good quality affordable medications available especially in low and middle-income countries.
Spread the word on asthma control this world asthma day and help those living with the condition be aware that they can live normal lives with the right medication and management.
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