Health & lifestyle
Have you ever experienced shortness of breath, chest tightness or involuntary coughing? Thankfully for many people these are signs of over-exertion or perhaps symptoms of a cold, but for two million Australians these symptoms may indicate an asthma attack.
If your not sure about your lung health why not try the Lung Health Checklist to see how healthy your lungs are?
What is asthma?
Asthma is a chronic illness in which the lung’s air passages become sensitive and sometimes narrow, making it hard to breathe. It can cause episodes of wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness and a dry, irritating, persistent cough, particularly in the early morning and during the evening.
What causes asthma is unclear, but there are “triggers” that can lead to an asthma attack. These are often common allergens, such as dust mites and pollens, mould spores, animal hair or fur, and tobacco smoke. An asthma attack can also be triggered by changes in the weather, viral infections, as well as some foods and chemicals.
Being breathless is not a normal part of getting older
Emma Dunstan from the Asthma Foundation, talks about asthma. In this first video Emma discusses the following topics:
- What is asthma?
- What are the common triggers for asthma?
- Could it be asthma?
In this next video Emma discusses things to talk to your doctor about and make your asthma medication work for you.
In this last video Emma discuss the following topics:
- Asthma action plan
- Is asthma a lifelong condition?
- Living well with asthma
- Asthma first aid
- Being breathless is not a normal part of getting older
For more information:
If you have any questions or would like more information on the video content above, please contact you local Asthma Foundation:
1800 645 130
Presenter: Emma Dunstan, Asthma Foundation of Victoria
Asthma attacks can develop quickly or over several days. Symptoms may include gasping for breath, severe chest tightness, inability to speak more than one or two words per breath, feeling distressed and anxious and/or appearing pale and sweaty. The symptoms of an asthma attack will vary from person to person, but if these symptoms do begin to develop it is important to respond appropriately.
Learning Asthma First Aid is a simple way that you can help your friends and family if they experience an asthma attack. Check out Asthma Australia’s Asthma First Aid Poster, to see how you can help someone having an asthma attack.
The ambulance (Dial 000) should also be called if symptoms worsen and you are concerned.
* Please note: If you or a family member experiences asthma attacks, make sure you have a current ambulance subscription. If you are not a subscriber, an ambulance trip can be very expensive.
If you have asthma there are positive steps you can take to manage your symptoms and avoid an attack. Good asthma management allows you to lead an active, healthy lifestyle. Poor management is likely to not only lead to more frequent attacks, but also to have a negative impact on your overall sense of well-being.
One of the most important steps in managing asthma is to identify your own personal triggers and then try to avoid them. In addition, it is important to know your asthma symptoms and how to treat them.
Asthma is a condition that can vary over time. Many people have symptoms and just get used to having them every day. Asthma symptoms are the lungs ways of alerting you that breathing is difficult. It is important not to ignore or put up with these symptoms. There are medications for asthma that can help you breathe better, your doctor will provide you with lots of information and also talk to you about your treatment options. Your doctor can also help you to develop an asthma action plan to help you recognise and respond to an asthma attack.
If you you are using medication it is important to think about how often you are using your blue reliever medication. If you are using this more than 3 times per week, speak to your doctor to find out what steps you can take to reduce your symptoms. This is particularly important if you are being woken at night or struggling to carry out the activities you normally enjoy.
It can also be helpful to ensure that your close friends and/or family are aware of your asthma so they know how to help if you have an attack.
Exercise can also play a role in helping to manage the illness. Many people with asthma report that regular exercise reduces the severity and frequency of their symptoms.
For more information on managing your asthma and keeping fit, download the Being Active with Asthma brochure from the Asthma Australia website.
Research indicates there is a link between depression and asthma. Depression is very common - one in five people will have depression at some time in their adult lifetime. For people who live with asthma, this figure is even higher. Depression is often associated with other chronic diseases such as asthma and can impact on an individual's health.
Read more about the link between asthma, anxiety and depression in this fact sheet developed by Asthma Australia and beyondblue.
Smoking and asthma
Asthma is a condition that affects the airways and makes it hard to breath. One of the biggest triggers for asthma attacks is smoking. Giving up smoking is difficult but as a result your asthma symptoms will lessen and importantly your asthma medication will be more effective. Giving up smoking will also benefit the health of those around you, particularly those who experience asthma attacks as a result of inhaling cigarette smoke.
If you would like to know more about asthma and smoking, and what support is available to quit, have a look at the Asthma Australia smoking fact sheet.
Asthma and Winter
With the change of season almost upon us, it is worth planning ahead to avoid or reduce the likelihood of getting very unwell with asthma. Here are some key points:
- Colds and flu - Viruses like colds and flu are the most common triggers for people with asthma. It can be difficult to avoid exposure to viruses, so speak to your doctor about vaccinations and how they can be part of your plan to keep well. Wash your hands frequently if you are near someone who has a cold, e.g. grandchildren.
- Vaccination recommendations - There are a variety of vaccinations recommended for people, depending on their age, and whether they have asthma. For example, all people aged 65 and over should have an annual influenza vaccine. If you have severe asthma or COPD, you should have this vaccine every year, regardless of your age.
Further information: immunise.health.gov.au - for the latest Immunise Australia Program Information.
- Asthma plan - It is important to have an up to date written asthma action plan. Your plan explains what medications you need to take for your asthma, and what to do if asthma symptoms worsen, including how to manage asthma during a cold or flu.
Not all shortness of breath and wheezing is asthma
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a long-term disease affecting the lungs and airways that includes chronic bronchitis, emphysema, chronic asthma or a combination of these conditions.
In Australia, estimates indicate that up to 1 in 5 people over 40 are affected by COPD. Research also shows that at least half of those with moderate to severe COPD (a point at which 50% of their lung capacity is lost) do not know they have COPD and are therefore not taking the important steps critical to slowing down disease progression. They could mistakenly be receiving treatment for asthma (symptoms for COPD and asthma are similar) or they could just think their symptoms, such as breathlessness, are a natural sign of ageing.
Although there is no cure for COPD, symptoms can be controlled to improve your quality of life and keep you out of hospital. The lung and airway damage cannot be repaired, but all of the symptoms of COPD can be reduced if you take action. Your quality of life can be improved and the length of your life can be extended4.
You can live well with COPD. It's up to you to take control.
For further information and videos on COPD, how to diagnose it and how to manage it, visit The Australian Lung Foundation’s website.
Want to know more?
To help you find out more about the causes, prevention, and management of asthma we have put together some relevant asthma links and resources.
The information for this article is sourced from Asthma Australia and the National Asthma Council of Australia
Health expert Q&A - Asthma
Wed, 2nd May 2012, Physical and mental health
Take this lung quiz to determine whether you should be talking to your doctor about your lung health.View Activities
Download this asthma first aid poster which outlines four simple steps to take in the case of an asthma emergency. Print it out, and stick it to your fridge door!.Download poster