Asthma is a chronic disease characterised by breathing difficulties due to inflammation and obstruction of the airways. With modern treatment, many asthmatics are free of symptoms between the attacks. During an acute asthma attack a sudden deterioration in the condition can lead to more severe symptoms. During an attack the airflow may be completely obstructed and the attack may consequently become life-threatening.
Asthma produces various symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, a sensation of tightness in the chest, shortness of breath and thick mucus.
As asthma symptoms are caused by blocked airways, it is best to treat the lungs as directly as possible. Inhalation therapy is suitable for this purpose. Various inhalers are used to administer medicines (steroids and bronchodilators) in many respiratory diseases such as asthma and COPD.
Sensation of tightness in the chest
Shortness of breath
The severity of the symptoms vary from patient to patient.
Asthma is diagnosed on the basis of medical history and physical examination. The doctor investigates the patient's symptoms, how often they occur and how severe they are. A significant factor is whether there is a family history of asthma and allergies. Lung function tests are performed in the diagnosis of asthma.
PEF measurement is used to diagnose and monitor asthma. A PEF meter measures how much air the patient can exhale. It is easy to use and patients can perform the measurement on their own.
In addition to these examinations, a prick test or blood tests may be of benefit in diagnosing any allergies. If necessary, a more extensive investigation of lung function can be done by what is known as spirometry. This is done in hospital or at a clinic.
The first step is always to avoid the risk factors. Medicines that prevent or alleviate attacks and symptoms can be given orally or injected, but in most cases inhalation is used.
As well as the right medication, some simple rules (according to the American Lung Association) can help asthma patients to control the disease:
Start keeping an asthma diary to try to find out what triggers the asthma symptoms.
If you suspect that something can act as a triggering factor, you should as far as possible avoid exposing yourself to this.
Air conditioning in the home may be useful if you react to pollen or spores.
Many asthma patients are sensitive to tobacco smoke.
Indoor mould should also be avoided: a dehumidifier may be beneficial.
House-dust mites are a common triggering factor. Avoid vacuum-cleaning in general, or least poor-quality vacuum cleaners that stir up dust and allergens.