World Asthma Day Special: Clean & clear

Clear your doubts about asthma to manage it well

woman smelling flowersManaging asthma is easy if you are aware of the condition and know how to control it. Here we answer some of the frequently asked questions on asthma that may help avoid untoward instances.

What exactly happens in asthma?

Our lungs have small tubes called airways. Airways of those with asthma are chronically inflamed. When such people are exposed to a trigger, the airways narrow further as the muscles around them constrict.

The airway lining swells and reddens, and produces mucus. All this restricts the airflow to the lungs, bringing on an attack.

What are the symptoms?

Recurrent episodes of breathlessness, tightness in the chest, coughing, and wheezing are common symptoms. Typically, the symptoms worsen at night and early morning, and also in some seasons.

What triggers an attack?

Anything that sets off an asthma attack is a trigger. Triggers can be different for different individuals. For some, it could be pollen, for others, it could be the fur of an animal. There could even be more than one trigger.

Fur, pollen, dust, smoke, stress, exercise and cold/flu are some of the common triggers. Sometimes, a person’s reaction to a trigger may not be immediate; symptoms may surface sometime later.

To avoid getting an attack, your focus should be entirely on eliminating the triggers from your environment—be it your home or office. Clean your house regularly to keep dust, mites and bugs away; wear a mask when you can’t physically avoid allergens.

Do I need to constantly be on medication?

inhalerThat depends on how bad your condition is. If you are prone to frequent attacks, you may be prescribed ‘controller’ medicines. These are to be taken daily and are intended to improve lung function, prevent symptoms or an attack. These work by reducing the swelling of the airways.

Many people, however, need to take medication only after the symptoms appear. Such medications are called ‘reliever’ medicines and are used to give symptomatic relief.

These work by relaxing the muscles around the airways, which opens them, making breathing easier. Inhalers are reliever medicines and are also a safe option.

Are the steroids present in asthma medicines safe?

It is safe to use inhalers as the inhaled steroids go straight to the airways and very little get absorbed by the rest of the body. In severe cases, inhalers are given for immediate relief. Usually, a short course of pills [between 3  14 days] is prescribed to calm the inflamed airways. Such a course is safe and does not have long-term effects.

Is asthma same as allergy?

No. Although allergy may have asthma-like symptoms, it is different as it involves the nasal membranes, the tongue, the skin, the eyes, and in severe cases, the respiratory passages.

In case of an allergy, the affected person may experience, burning sensation in the eyes or watery eyes, they may have an itchy, runny nose, bouts of sneezing—symptoms which are absent in asthma.

Does every asthma attack require immediate medical attention?

Yes. You need to figure out with your doctor the severity of your condition and base your treatment/action plan accordingly.

Your doctor will tell you when it is okay to take medicines at home and when you need to rush to the hospital in case of an attack. But every attack, irrespective of your condition, needs medication.

How do I know my asthma is worsening?

If your symptoms worsen at night, and your attacks have increased in frequency leading you to use relief/rescue medications again and again, your asthma is getting worse and it’s time to visit a doctor.

If I have asthma when I am pregnant, will my baby get it too?

Most women who have asthma are concerned about passing it on to their babies. Like other allergic conditions, such as hay fever and eczema, asthma often runs in the family. But it is important to continue asthma medicines as they do not harm the baby.

Consult your gynaecologist, if you are concerned about controlling your asthma. It is advised to avoid smoking during pregnancy as children born to smoking mothers are more likely to develop asthma and wheezing in their early years.

My child has asthma and I am worried about sending him to school. What care should I take?

Explain your child’s condition to the teachers at school. This is important as they are the ones who would be administering the treatment in case your kid gets an attack in school. Also, keep the relief medicines in his/her backpack, where it could be found easily and inform the teachers about it.

V A Sajit Babu
Dr V A Sajit Babu, MBBS, DNB [respiratory medicine], is consulting pulmonologist at the Dr L H Hiranandani Hospital, Mumbai.


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