Asthma Awareness Month

Asthma Awareness Month | Dr. Ali Ghahary
Corticosteroid inhalers are commonly used to treat asthma by reducing inflammation. | Dr. Ali Ghahary

Asthma is a respiratory condition affecting the lungs, and is defined as chronic inflammation of the airway which causes difficulty breathing. To date, an estimated 3 million Canadians suffer from asthma.

Who Gets Asthma?

While asthma is more common in childhood (with approximately 600,000 children under the age of 12 being diagnosed, making it one of the most common chronic diseases in children today), it’s also not uncommon for adults over the age of 50 to be diagnosed. This is known as adult-onset asthma. While it’s still the same disease in children and adults, it tends to act slightly different depending on the age of the patient, which may result in different strategies as far as treatment.

When it comes to the similarities, children and adults with asthma will often experience much of the same symptoms, such as shortness of breath, frequent coughing, wheezing, congestion, increased mucus secretion, and a feeling of pressure/tightness in the chest. It’s also not uncommon for both children and adults to panic when they are having an asthma attack.

Unfortunately, diagnosing childhood and adult-onset asthma can sometimes be tricky as it’s not always immediately recognized as being asthma. Symptoms can also be hard to identify, particularly in babies due to underdeveloped bronchial tubes (which can not only become inflamed as a result of asthma, but also from the cold or flu); while adults tend to shrug off their symptoms as allergies or a persisting cold that they can’t seem to shake, without even realizing that asthma may be the culprit.

What Triggers Asthma?

Asthma has a wide range of triggers. Below is a list of some of the most common:

• Respiratory infections
• Pet dander
• Pollen
• Dust
• Smoke
• Mold and/or mildew
• Physical activity

In order to prevent an asthma attack from happening, the best thing to do is to avoid these triggers. For example, if your asthma is triggered by pollen, it’s recommended that you stay indoors as much as possible – especially during peak pollen times. You can find your local peak pollen times via The Weather Network’s Pollen Report. If you have air conditioning, use it rather than leaving your windows and doors open. AC reduces indoor air pollutants like pollen, as well as lowers the humidity in your home which reduces your risk of being exposed to things like dust mites, and therefore reduces your risk of having an asthma attack/flare-up.

As mentioned, another common cause of asthma is pet dander, especially in those who are allergic to them. Proteins found in an animal’s skin, hair, saliva, urine and feces can also trigger asthma. The best way to avoid a flare-up that is caused by these triggers if to avoid animals all together. However, if you have a family pet, you may not be ready to part ways with them. If that’s the case, make sure you keep animals out of your bedroom and off furniture. If you have an indoor pet, make sure they are bathed frequently.

When it comes to things like smoke and dust, these aren’t always easily avoidable. Smoke, especially, as it can be caused from things like forest fires and tobacco use. If you happen to be a cigarette smoker, you will need to quit. If you’re around second-hand smoke, avoid it whenever possible. This will not only reduce your asthma attacks, but also decrease your risk of other respiratory related illness such as COPD and lung cancer.

How is Asthma Treated?

Asthma treatment is dependent on a patient’s symptoms, though inhaled corticosteroids are the most common form of treatment. An inhaled corticosteroid is typically used every day and helps to reduce inflammation in the airways. It’s also not uncommon for them to be combined with other inhalers, such as Ventolin or Symbicort.

For more information, visit Asthma.ca