Malaysia is one of the ‘swee...
It was estimated that 6.4% of Malaysians have been diagnosed with asthma (NHMS 2011); its prevalence is on the rise over the years and has led to more healthcare expenditure and individual suffering. Asthma is a long-term condition that has no definitive cure and it may require long-term treatment. The good news is, with proper care, asthma can be well-controlled and it will show little or no symptoms at all.
Asthma is a medical condition that can make one difficult to breathe, which is a result of exaggerated but reversible airway blockage due to smooth muscle contraction. On top of that, people with asthma may find their lungs highly inflamed – a result of complex allergic response that involves various cells and substances in the lung. Such inflammation also constricts a person’s airway and worsens its asthma.
Asthma sufferers have trouble breathing because of the narrowing of the airways in their lungs, an example of which is shown in the upper left. In chronic asthma (lower left), repeated cycles of inflammation, damage, and repair lead to airway remodeling and fibrosis, the buildup of collagen and other materials. A signaling molecule known as NF-κB can significantly reduce chronic asthma (lower right). Image credit: "Asthma: Mild and Chronic" by National Institutes of Health (NIH) is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0
Asthma is not contagious. However, it could be inherited. If your parents or siblings have asthma, eczema or hay fever, you are at a higher risk of developing asthma. A child is three times more likely to develop asthma if a single parent has it and the risk doubles if both parents have it. However, it is important to note that the genetics are complicated – just because you have asthma, it does not automatically mean your children will inherit it.
The common symptoms of asthma include:
A tight feeling in the chest
Shortness of breath
Symptoms can happen each day, each week, or less often, depending on the severity of asthma. Although it is rare, an episode of asthma can sometimes lead to hospitalisation or even death.
Many people with asthma continue to enjoy sports and their lives. How is that so? Well, part of the reasons is that they learn how to avoid their asthma triggers. As a result, their asthma doesn’t show any symptoms and their quality of life is unaffected.
An asthma trigger is anything that causes asthma symptoms or makes asthma symptoms worse. If you have asthma, it's important to know what your asthma triggers are. That way, you can avoid them so that your symptoms don't get worse.
Cigarette smoke (including secondhand smoke)
Getting sick with a cold, the flu, or a lung, ear, or sinus infection
Strong cleaning products, such as bleach
Strong perfumes or scents
Certain medicines, such as aspirin and other medicines for pain or fever (known as NSAIDs)
Very cold and dry air
Pollen from trees, grass, and weeds
Remember that your triggers may be very different from those of someone else with asthma. If you aren’t quite sure what your asthma triggers are, speak to a healthcare professional. They can help you figure it out by talking with you and asking you questions. Your doctor may also do an allergy test to see if you have any allergic triggers that can set your asthma off.
If you already have asthma for a while, chances are you already know what are your asthma triggers and how to avoid them. Every patient with asthma may devise its own creative way of avoiding such triggers. Here are some general tips:
If cigarette smoke makes your asthma symptoms worse, avoid people who are smoking. If you smoke, get help to quit.
To avoid getting sick with an infection (which can in turn trigger your asthma), wash your hands often. You can also get a flu shot every year so you don't get the flu. Some people also need to get a vaccine to help prevent pneumonia (called pneumococcal vaccine).
To avoid air pollution, stay indoors when air pollution levels are high, and don't exercise near a busy road.
Avoid using bleach and other strong cleaners.
To avoid dust mites, cover your pillows and mattresses with special covers that keep dust mites away, and remove carpets from the bedroom.
To avoid mold, regularly clean any areas that tend to grow mold, such as sinks and tiles. To keep more mold from growing, use a dehumidifier or air conditioner, fix leaky plumbing, and remove carpets that were damaged by water. You can also remove any indoor plants, as well as other items that might have gotten damp and grown mold, such as old books or bedding.
To avoid animal saliva, urine, or dander, you can remove the pet from your home and clean your home after the animal has gone.
To keep cockroaches and mice away, don't let garbage or dirty dishes pile up. Fix leaky plumbing so there are no puddles of water. If you have cockroaches or mice, use traps to kill them, or call an exterminator.
Very importantly, watch out for an attack when you can’t avoid the triggers. Although exercise can be an asthma trigger, you’re encouraged to exercise because it offers many health benefits. To prevent asthma symptoms when you exercise:
Warm up slowly before each exercise session
Avoid exercising outdoors if it is very cold out
Take a puff of your relief inhaler (reliever) 15-20 minutes before exercise. If you aren’t sure what a reliever inhaler is or how to use it, consult a healthcare professional.
People with asthma are more likely to develop severe symptoms if they catch COVID-19. If you have asthma, it's especially important to take measures to avoid getting sick. This includes staying home as much as possible and washing your hands often.
If you take medicines to control your asthma or treat asthma attacks, it's important to keep taking them as usual. If you have symptoms of COVID-19, or think you might have been exposed to the virus, consult a healthcare professional.
If you have any questions related to asthma, you can consult our professional doctors and healthcare professionals on Doc2Us. Doc2Us is a mobile application that allows you to talk to a doctor or any healthcare professionals via text chat at any time and from anywhere. For better communication, you can even send our online doctor images or voice messages related to your medical inquiry.
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Disclaimer: As a service to our users and general public, Doc2Us provides health education contents. Please note the date of last review or update on all articles. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.
UpToDate - An overview of asthma management
UpToDate - Pathogenesis of asthma
UpToDate - Patient education: Asthma in adults (The Basics)
UpToDate - Patient education: Avoiding asthma triggers (The Basics)
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