Asthma is a chronic long-term respiratory condition affecting the airways in the lungs, resulting in breathing difficulties and a host of associated issues. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), more than 339 million people suffer from asthma globally, causing almost 500,000 deaths in 2016. It is of such major public health importance that there is a World Asthma Day every year, organised by the Global Initiative for Asthma (GINA) to raise awareness of asthma worldwide.
This year, the theme for World Asthma Day is on debunking asthma misconceptions. Read on to find out important facts about this major non-communicable disease, so that you can better manage your asthma.
There are many common misconceptions about asthma that many sufferers are not aware of, preventing them from living life to the fullest.
Here are the top misconceptions, and the truth revealed:
Misconception 1. Asthma is infectious.
Truth: Asthma is not infectious at all. However, some forms of viral respiratory infections such as the flu or the common cold may trigger asthma.
Misconception 2. Asthma is caused by an allergy.
Truth: Asthma is frequently associated with allergies in children. However, asthma which starts in adulthood is less often allergic in nature.
The bronchi are small tubes which carry air in and out of the lungs. Asthma causes the bronchi to be inflamed and overly sensitive. If you come into contact with something that irritates your lungs (known as a trigger), your airways narrow, the surrounding muscles tighten, and the production of phlegm increases. Common asthma triggers other than allergens (i.e. things that cause allergies) include dust mites, pollen and animal fur.
It is not fully known why some people develop asthma. However, you are more likely to suffer from it if you have a family history of asthma.
Misconception 3. All asthma symptoms are the same.
Truth: Generally, symptoms of asthma include wheezing, coughing, chest tightness, and breathlessness. However, symptoms vary from one patient to another.
Misconception 4. People with asthma should not participate in any form of exercise.
Truth: Many people suffering from asthma have managed to control their symptoms well, performing at the highest level of sports. In fact, regular exercise is beneficial. A study conducted in Canada on adult patients with asthma found that those who engaged in optimal levels of physical activity were able to better control their condition.
There may be some forms of exercise that are less likely to trigger asthma symptoms. These exercises include:
- Gentle biking
Misconception 5. Asthma is a condition that is restricted to your childhood, and individuals will grow out of asthma as they grow older.
Truth: Asthma can occur to anyone, regardless of their age group. Asthma is a chronic lifelong condition. Symptoms may differ over time or become infrequent due to changes in the body or environment. Hence, children may appear to outgrow the disease.
However, there is no cure for asthma, and it can reappear at any time. Asthma management typically includes relieving symptoms and avoiding any triggers that may set off future asthma attacks.
Misconception 6. A very high dose of steroids is required to control any asthma symptoms, which can lead to nasty side effects.
Truth: Steroids, also known as corticosteroids, are a type of anti-inflammatory medication prescribed for a wide range of conditions. When you inhale this medication into your airways, it can help to reduce inflammation.
Asthma can be controlled with low-dose inhaled steroids. Using asthma inhalers with steroids stops the inflammatory process. This helps to improve lung function and prevent attacks. However, the dose of steroids prescribed for you may depend on the level of control of your asthma. You may require a higher dose initially if you have frequent asthma attacks. Once your condition improves, the dose may be gradually reduced.
Inhaled steroids usually have little side effects as they are generally not highly absorbed into your blood. Common side effects from inhaled steroids include oral thrush and hoarse voice, which can be prevented by rinsing of your mouth and spitting the water out after every use of the inhaler.
Living With Asthma
There is currently no cure for asthma, but you can take several measures to control symptoms and reduce the chances of a severe asthma attack.
- Create asthma-friendly environments by keeping your living space clean and dust-free.
- Understand what triggers your asthma, and how you can avoid them.
- Create a complete asthma management plan by working closely with your healthcare provider.
- Go for vaccinations against flu and pneumonia every year, as they can prevent infections which can result in serious asthma complications.
Managing your asthma journey requires commitment and discipline; however, it translates into invaluable rewards of being able to enjoy a thriving and active lifestyle.
To find out more about the basics of asthma, click into our article on ‘What You Need To Know About Asthma’!
Article is written in conjunction with World Asthma Day.