Respiratory Health

Understanding asthma

Asthma is a complex condition that impacts everyone differently. Some people develop asthma as a child, others as adults. Some people have symptoms often, some only for a shorter period. When you understand how your asthma affects you – or someone you care for – then you can take control of your health. Most of the time, asthma can be managed so you can breathe freely and live your live fully.

What is asthma?

Asthma is a lung condition that affects the airways transporting air into our lungs. There is no known cure, but asthma can be managed. Those suffering from asthma have sensitive airways that can become inflamed (flare-up) when exposed to triggers. When airways are inflamed, they narrow, causing signifi cant and troublesome symptoms including breathing diffi culties. Asthma flare ups can lead to a medical emergency. A flare-up can manifest quickly, or become more noticeable over the course of days or weeks.

Asthma management

Asthma management aims to keep a person completely free of asthma symptoms and prevent lung damage from asthma. It involves managing asthma triggers and the correct use of asthma medicines. Special breathing exercises are also known to help airfl ow. Your Amcal pharmacist can assess your asthma symptoms and review your asthma management and asthma medicines. Book yourself or a loved one in for an inhaler technique check at your local pharmacy.

Types of asthma

When you are diagnosed with asthma, your treating health professional may refer to it as a type of asthma, stage of asthma, level of asthma, or asthma classifi cation – usually relating to the frequency and severity of your symptoms. Below are four different classifi cations your doctor might use.

1. Mild intermittent: Many people have this level of asthma, which doesn’t interfere with daily activities. Symptoms are mild, lasting fewer than two days per week or two nights per month.

2. Mild persistent: The symptoms occur more than twice a week — but not daily — and up to four nights per month.

3. Moderate persistent: The symptoms occur daily and at least one night every week, but not nightly. They may limit some daily activities.

4. Severe persistent: The symptoms occur several times every day and most nights. Daily activities are extremely limited.

Asthma triggers

If you suffer from asthma, an asthma attack may occur when you are exposed to asthma triggers. If you know and understand your asthma triggers you can learn how to avoid them. The most common triggers include:

Tobacco smoke: Cigarette smoke is unhealthy for everyone, and particularly dangerous for people with asthma. Consider quitting smoking if you suffer from asthma. Second-hand smoke can also trigger an asthma attack, and you should avoid smoking when others are nearby at home, in the car, or anywhere else.

Dust mites: These microscopic bugs are found in many Australian homes. To prevent asthma attacks triggered by dust mites:

  • Use allergen proof bedding and pillowcases.
  • Avoid down-fi lled bedding and comforters.
  • Wash bedding weekly and allow to dry completely.
  • Vacuum using a cleaner equipped with a HEPA fi lter.
  • Try to maintain relative humidity levels in the home around 30-50%

Pollution: Air pollution is a common asthma trigger. Pollution sources include cars, factories and wildfi re smoke. Outdoor pollution contains a number of harmful particles and gases. If you suffer from asthma, keep updated with pollution levels via weather reports, etc.



What causes it?

The causes of asthma are unknown, although researchers mostly attribute genetic and environmental factors such as air pollution to the condition. Many people share a family history or ailments that include asthma, hay fever and eczema, with exposure to triggers in the environment known to increase the risk of developing symptoms. Known asthma causes include:

  • Smoking and second-hand smoke.
  • Traffic, industrial pollution, occupational asthma triggers, bushfires.
  • Some workplace materials and chemicals.
  • Research studies link obesity with asthma in some people.

Treatments

If you are diagnosed with asthma, your doctor will work with you to create a treatment plan to manage your asthma symptoms and prevent asthma attacks. Asthma treatment usually depends on your age, asthma severity, and response to a given treatment option. Your doctor may adjust your treatment until asthma symptoms are controlled.

Most asthma medicines are inhaled into the lungs. The three main types of asthma medicines are called relievers, preventers and symptom controllers.

Asthma relievers: This medication assists by quickly opening up airways during an asthma attack. Relievers work fast and the effects can last for around 4 hours.

Asthma preventers: As the name implies, asthma preventers help prevent asthma attacks occurring and keeps asthma under control.

Asthma controllers: This medicine is used when preventer medication is not adequate to relieve asthma symptoms. Asthma control medicine, similar to reliever medications, are often combined with preventer medicine in a single inhaler.

It takes practice to properly use asthma medicines for optimal effect. Speak to your Amcal pharmacist about the proper way to use your asthma inhaler.


Pests (e.g., mice and cockroaches): Household pests are found wherever foods and food crumbs are found. Here are some tips for controlling pests around your home.

  • Clear and remove food sources wherever possible.
  • Wash dishes, clean spills and remove crumbs straight away.
  • Keep trash in a closed bin.
  • Use airtight containers to store food.
  • Seal cracks or openings in cabinets and around plumbing.
  • Avoid using sprays that are known to cause asthma attacks.

Pets: Asthma is triggered in some people by pet dander. You should keep furry pets out of the bedroom and wash them often. Dander is comprised of skin fl akes shed by pets containing allergenic proteins.

Mould: Breathing mouldy air can trigger an asthma attack even if you are not allergic to mould. Pay special attention to damp areas of the home, such as bathrooms, basements and kitchens, plus any water-damaged areas. Reduce mould and use a dehumidifi er if possible.

Cleaners and disinfectants: People with asthma should move from areas where disinfectants are being used, and avoid the area for a while after disinfectant use. Never mix disinfectant products and select mild and safe cleaners. Keep the room ventilated.

Identifying asthma

Signs and symptoms of asthma may include:

  • Wheeze (whistling sound) while breathing in or out
  • Shortness of breath
  • Coughing
  • Chest tightness

Interesting facts about asthma

  • Asthma is often hereditary.
  • Conditions such as dry, wet or windy weather can exacerbate the condition.
  • Effective treatment includes monitoring the condition with a peak flow meter.
  • Drug therapies include bronchodilators, corticosteroids, and other anti-inflammatory agents.
  • Allergists are medical specialists most likely to diagnose asthma.

Frequently asked questions

Common risk factors for developing asthma include having a parent with the condition, suffering a respiratory infection as a child or infant, having an allergic condition, and being exposed to some types of chemical irritants and industrial dust particles.

Complications from asthma can cause anything from lifestyle disruptions to emergency medical conditions. Complications include:

Sleep disruption: Some asthma sufferers experience the majority of symptoms at night. This can lead to sleep deprivation and the inability to function well at school or work.

Limited physical activity: Asthma restricts physical activity and sports for some people with the condition. In addition, a lack of adequate exercise can increase the risk of developing diabetes, high blood pressure, weight gain and depression.

Airway changes: Asthma can lead to a chronic inflammation of the airway. Permanent structural damage can result, called airway remodelling. These changes can lead to loss of lung function, increased mucus production, airway wall thickening, chronic coughing and increased blood supply in the airways.

Hospitalization: Asthma can be a medical emergency, and accounts for around 1.3 percent of hospital emergency room visits. You may need to wear an oxygen mask and require fast-acting medication. Severe asthma can lead to respiratory failure.

The exact cause of asthma is not fully identifi ed, making it a challenge to prevent inflammatory asthma conditions. However, there is reliable information about prevention of asthma. Strategies include:

Avoiding triggers: Always avoid situations, materials, chemicals and smells that have previously caused breathing problems.

Taking preventative medication: Your treating doctor may prescribe medicines to be taken daily. This is usually in addition to medications you use to avoid serious asthma attacks.

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is an umbrella lung disease term for emphysema, chronic bronchitis and chronic asthma. The symptoms of COPD are similar to asthma, and some people suffer from more than one condition. With asthma, it is possible to reverse the narrowing of airways, although this is largely not possible for people with COPD. Although COPD is often undiagnosed, it is estimated that around 15% of Australian adults may be affected. COPD ailments are considered the fourth most common cause of death in Australia.

If you think you have asthma: If you suffer from frequent coughing or wheezing that lasts more than a few days, or you display any other signs or symptoms of asthma, it’s time to see your doctor to establish a longterm control plan. Treating asthma early may help to prevent long-term lung damage and keep the condition from getting worse over time.

If your asthma symptoms get worse: Contact your doctor immediately if your medication isn’t easing your symptoms or if you need to use your quick-relief inhaler more often. Don’t take more medication than prescribed without fi rst consulting your doctor. Overusing asthma medication can cause side effects that could potentially make your asthma worse.

Firstly your doctor will undertake a physical exam in order to rule out other possible conditions, such as COPD. Your doctor will also ask you about the asthma signs and symptoms you experience. You may also be given lung function tests to determine movement of air as you breathe.

Tests include: Spirometry: This test indicates the narrowing of bronchial tubes. It is performed with a few simple breathing tests.

Peak flow: A peak fl ow meter is a device that measures how strongly you can exhale (breathe out). A low reading is a sign your lungs aren’t working as effectively as they should.

Additional tests to diagnose asthma include methacholine challenge, imaging tests, allergy testing, nitric oxide test, sputum eosinophils, plus provocative testing for exercise and coldinduced asthma.

Severe asthma attacks can dramatically affect quality of life and even be life-threatening. Work with your doctor to determine what to do when your signs and symptoms worsen (flare-up) and when you need emergency treatment. Signs of an asthma flare up include:

  • Rapid worsening of shortness of breath or wheezing
  • No improvement even after using a quick-relief inhaler
  • Shortness of breath even when performing minimal physical activity

Just ask Amcal

90% of people with asthma are not using their inhalers correctly and you could be one of them. Ask in-store for a free inhaler technique check and asthma consultation. Your Amcal pharmacist will direct you through a 6-step process to assess your technique and provide you advice on best asthma management.

You are in safe hands at Amcal, and if you have any questions regarding asthma products and services, visit your Amcal pharmacy today.

For more information about asthma speak to your Amcal pharmacist.

Australia’s largest pharmacy network and home to expert health advice and service.