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These are the most frequently asked questions about asthma.
Question: What is asthma?
Answer: Asthma is an incurable chronic inflammation of the bronchial tubes (airways), recognised by repeated episodes of wheezing, breathlessness, chest tightness and nighttime or early morning coughing which vary in severity and frequency from person to person. Symptoms may occur several times in affected individuals and for some the symptoms become worse during physical activity.
Question: Is asthma curable?
Answer: Proper diagnosis, treatment and education can result in good asthma management and control. Failure to recognise and avoid triggers that lead to a tightened airway can be life threatening, resulting in an asthma attack, respiratory distress and even death.
Question: Who is affected by asthma?
Answer: Asthma occurs in all countries regardless of level of development but over 80% of asthma deaths occur in low and lower-middle income countries. Asthma is hereditary and it affects people of any age and can change over time.
Question: What are the risk factors for developing asthma?
Answer: The strongest risk factors for developing asthma are exposure to indoor allergens such as dust mites in bedding, stuffed furniture and carpets and outdoor allergens such as pollens and moulds, tobacco smoke, wood smoke and high humidity.
Question: What triggers asthmatic attacks?
Answer: Asthma triggers (something irritating the airways to and from the lungs) can include cold air, extreme emotional states such as anger or fear and physical exercise. If you have asthma your airways always have some irritation and when you have an asthma attack this irritation gets worse and your airways close part way while getting blocked with mucus.
Question: How is asthma treated?
Answer: Asthma is primarily treated with medicines delivered through inhalers, usually with a combination of preventor and reliever inhalers. Anyone affected by asthma should have a reliever inhaler which is usually blue and should be taken when asthma symptoms occur. If a reliever inhaler is needed more than three times a week, it is indicative of a poorly controlled asthma situation and patients should go back to their doctor to have their symptoms reviewed.
Question: What is the purpose of preventor inhalers?
Answer: Preventor inhalers control the swelling and inflammation in the airways, minimising the sensitivity and reducing the risk of severe asthma attacks. They should be taken regularly.
Question: Is asthma painful?
Answer: In many instances there is severe chest pain during uncontrolled asthma due to the lungs expanding considerably as a result of the large quantity of air trapped inside the lungs and the wall of the chest stretching due to overexpansion, straining the rib joints and causing pain.
Question: When does an asthmatic attack become life threatening?
Answer: Emergency symptoms include a bluish color to the lips and face, decreased level of alertness, extreme difficulty breathing, a rapid pulse, severe anxiety and sweating. Medical attention should be sought immediately.
Question: How does one care for an asthmatic patient?
Answer: Important care and self-care skills include knowing the symptoms, knowing how to take peak flow reading and what it means, keeping the emergency phone number at hand, knowing the triggers and informing co-workers or teachers of the condition and steps to take in the case of an emergency.