People with asthma have sensitive airways. When exposed to certain stimuli their airways can narrow, making it harder to breathe. This airflow obstruction is reversible either spontaneously or with treatment. There are 3 main mechanisms for airway narrowing:
- The inside lining of the airways can become red and swollen (inflammation)
- Extra mucous can be produced
- The muscle around the airways tightens (bronchoconstriction)
- A dry, irritating, persistent cough – particularly at night, early morning or after exercise
- Chest tightness
- Shortness of breath
We don’t yet know what causes asthma. Asthma can be found in people of any age and it can come and go without apparent reason. It is known that asthma is common with a family history of asthma, eczema and hayfever. It is also known that exposure to cigarette smoke during pregnancy and early childhood significantly increases the risk of children developing asthma.
- Colds and flu
- Exposure to cigarette smoke
- Inhaled allergens (e.g. pollens, moulds, animal dander and dust mites)
- Environmental (e.g. dust, pollution, wood smoke, bush fires)
- Changes in temperature and weather
- Certain medications (e.g. aspirin)
- Chemicals and strong smells (e.g. perfumes, cleaners)
- Emotional factors (e.g. laughter, stress)
Asthma cannot be cured. It can however be treated and kept under control so that you can live a normal, active life. Asthma medications fall into 2 categories, relievers and preventers.
Airomir, Asmol, Bricanyl, Epaq, Ventolin (blue)
Relievers provide relief from asthma symptoms (coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath) within minutes. They work by relaxing the muscles around the airways for up to four hours, allowing air to more easily move through the airways.
Reliever inhalers are the ones to use in an asthma emergency.
Flixotide (orange), Intal Forte (white), Pulmicort, Qvar (brown), Tilade (yellow), Alvesco
These medications work by making the airways less sensitive. Preventers reduce the redness and swelling inside the airways and dry up mucus. They may take a few weeks to make people feel better. The medication containers are normally autumn coloured (brown, orange or yellow).
Preventers must be taken daily to keep you well, reduce the risk of asthma attacks and to prevent lung damage. A number of these medications are corticosteroids (more commonly known as ‘steroids’). They are similar to steroids that we produce naturally in our bodies. They are not the same as the anabolic steroids misused by some athletes. Do not stop taking your Preventer unless advised by your doctor.
During a severe attack of asthma when there is little response to reliever medication, your doctor may prescribe a short course (2-14 days) of Prednisone/Prednisolone, Predmix or Redipred tablets or syrup to quickly make you well.