Breathing – it’s as simple and in and out right? For a lot of asthma sufferers breathing isn’t always as straightforward as that, and it can take a lot of ongoing management just to be able to breathe freely.
According to Asthma Australia, asthma affects one in nine Australians – that’s around 2.7 million of us. Indigenous Australians are twice as likely to have asthma compared to non-Indigenous Australians. In 2017-18, nearly 39,000 asthma sufferers were hospitalised, but a whopping 80% of those cases were preventable. Perhaps it could be because only 28% of asthmatic Australians have an asthma action plan? Let’s take a closer look at asthma in Australia and see.
What is asthma?
Asthma is a condition of the lungs, whereby triggers can inflame the airways, making them narrower, and therefore making it harder to breathe. It’s a bit like trying to breathe through a very narrow straw, when really you’d like to be breathing through a nice wide pipe. 389 Australians sadly lost their lives to asthma in 2018, and there is currently no known cure.
Asthma Australia identifies five common types of asthma:
- Allergic – when something you are allergic to triggers your asthma (such as a food, or dust),
- Non-allergic – when your asthma is caused by a virus, or an irritant (such as a chemical),
- Occupational – when your asthma is triggered by something at your workplace (such as fumes and chemicals),
- Exercise-induced – when physical activity and exertion trigger your asthma,
- Nocturnal – when your asthma is worse at night, perhaps due to your sleep patterns.
Asthma can affect you from childhood, and you may or may not “grow out of it”, or alternatively you could develop asthma as an adult.
What are the symptoms?
Asthma symptoms are different for everyone, so it is important to remember that you need to talk to your GP about your own symptoms so they can be managed accordingly. However, the Mayo Clinic identifies a few common symptoms that many asthma sufferers experience. Not surprisingly, they are all related to your breathing and can include things such as a tightening feeling in your chest, wheezing and coughing, or the feeling that you are short of breath or can’t breathe properly.
For some, asthma symptoms can build over a number of days, for others, the symptoms can come on quickly without much warning.
What are preventers and relievers?
For a non-asthma sufferer, it can often seem strange to see the relief that taking a puff on an inhaler can bring to someone. Broadly speaking, there are a couple of common devices that asthma sufferers use to manage and relieve their asthma symptoms.
Preventers are a device that contains doses of a corticosteroid, which is a type of anti-inflammatory. Humans do produce a similar type of substance, but asthma sufferers often need a higher dose, and receiving it via the device means it gets a direct passage into the lungs. Preventers help to manage symptoms and as the name suggests “prevent” the onset of an asthma episode.
Relievers, on the other hand, are used to relax the muscles, opening up those airways and allowing the air to flow more freely. These are often used in first aid, when the sufferer is experiencing symptoms of an asthma attack. They can work very quickly, and provide relief for a number of hours.
Do you have an asthma action plan?
As we mentioned above, according to Asthma Australia, only 28% of Australian asthma sufferers have an asthma action plan in place. That means that a whopping 72% of asthma sufferers in Australia are not managing their asthma properly.
It is very important that asthma sufferers work with their GP to manage their asthma properly. An asthma action plan outlines both your management program (prevention) and tells you what to do in the event of an asthma attack. Your GP can also diagnose asthma if you feel you are suffering from the symptoms, and show you the correct way to administer your asthma medication using a device such as an inhaler. By taking these simple steps, many asthma sufferers could be managing their asthma much better (and perhaps we can get some of those hospitalisation figures down – 80% are preventable!).
If you are asthmatic and don’t have an asthma action plan, or it is out of date, or you think you or your child may suffer from asthma, make an appointment with one of our friendly GPs for a consultation.
This website does not provide medical advice. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately dial Triple 0 (000).