Everything you need to know about asthma

It is a life-threatening illness – here's all you need to take control of your asthma.

29 April 2008
by The Clicks health team

What is asthma?

Asthma is a chronic (long-lasting) disease of the airways. During an attack the muscle tissues of the air passages become inflamed and lined with excessive amounts of mucus. They become narrower and less able to move air into the lungs. An attack can be sudden and is characterised by breathing difficulty, wheezing, gasping, chest tightness and coughing. As a result a person with asthma has to make a much greater effort to breathe. Asthma attacks can range from being mild to being life threatening.

Asthma facts

  • Asthma cannot be cured, but it can be treated and controlled!
  • Asthma is a chronic disorder that requires long-term management
  • Prevention (every day) is definitely better than cure!

Asthma risk factors

  • Presence of allergies
  • Family history of asthma and/or allergies
  • Frequent respiratory infections
  • Low birth weight
  • Smoking or exposure to smoke (also during pregnancy!)

Prevention measures

  • Eliminate all possible allergens from the environment and diet
  • Keep home and work area as dust and pollutant-free as possible
  • Keep away from pets, or at least keep them out of the bedroom
  • Avoid use of humidifiers
  • Avoid exposure to smoke
  • Avoid exercise in areas where pollution levels are high
  • Speak to your doctor about exercise that would strengthen lung function (e.g. swimming)

Emergency symptoms

Seek emergency care/assistance when the person suffering an asthma attack has these symptoms:

  • Bluish skin tone
  • Bluish coloration around the lips, fingernail beds and tongue
  • Severe wheezing
  • Uncontrolled coughing
  • Very rapid breathing
  • Inability to catch his/her breath
  • Tightened neck and chest muscles due to breathing difficulty
  • Inability to perform a peak expiratory flow*
  • Feelings of anxiety or panic
  • Pale, sweaty face
  • Difficulty talking
  • Difficulty walking
  • Confusion
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Chest pain or pressure
  • If you are unsure about any of the symptoms, call a doctor anyway!

When to consult a doctor

  • If for any reason you suspect you have asthma
  • If you are unable to participate in normal activities
  • If you missed school/work due to asthma symptoms
  • Signs of infection such as increased fatigue or weakness, fever, sore throat, coughing up mucus, nasal congestion, headaches, tenderness along the cheekbones

Ask your Clicks Pharmacist or Nursing Practitioner for advice about asthma.

When you talk to your pharmacist about your or your child’s asthma, they will be able to provide you with the following information:

  • An explanation of the nature of asthma
  • An explanation of the purpose of the medication prescribed to you
  • A written/printed asthma management plan which includes asthma prevention
  • Pharmacy/clinic assistance to manage your/your child’s asthma
  • Pointers for care-givers/teachers
  • Reassurance of the safety of continuous regular medication therapy
  • How to get optimal use of medication
  • The importance of compliance to medication
  • The importance of regular follow-up visits to the doctor
  • How to recognise worsening asthma symptoms
  • How to recognise potential side-effects of medication
  • How to recognize early warning signs of an attack
  • When to avoidance of unnecessary therapy/medication, e.g. cough syrups
  • Correct use of inhalers and the opportunity to practice under supervision
  • Dangers of smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke
  • How to avoide preservatives that can trigger an attack
  • Lifestyle changes, for example diet and exercise, and how to determine and avoid common triggers.