Asthma Basics: Things You Should Know

Image of girl suffering from asthma

7th May 2019 (Second Tuesday of May) is observed as World Asthma Day with the aim to raise awareness about the condition and its management. The theme for this year is “STOP for Asthma” which stands for Symptom Evaluation, Test Response, Observe and Assess, and Proceed to Adjust Treatment.

Asthma is a common disease of the airways that makes breathing difficult. It is a chronic inflammatory disease of the airways that affects people of all ages. According to a study published online[1], the burden of asthma is immense as more than 300 million individuals are currently suffering from asthma worldwide. Moreover, about a tenth of those with asthma is living in India. The prevalence of asthma has been estimated to around 38% in children and around 12% in adults. It is being the most common chronic disorder among children[1]. This World Asthma day, let’s shed some light on the basics of the condition.

What Happens In Asthma?

In people suffering from asthma, there is an inflammation of the air passages which in turn results in a temporary narrowing of the airways that carry oxygen to the lungs. This impairs the supply of the air to the lungs and causing the person to suffer from breathing difficulties.

What Causes Asthma?

An asthma attack can occur if you are exposed to any of the triggers of the condition. Remember that asthma triggers may not be the same in every person. It differs from person to person and hence, it is important to keep a track of factors that might aggravate or trigger an asthma attack. Some of the most common triggers of asthma are dust mites, pets, flowers, pollen, tobacco smoke, outdoor air pollution, allergens, molds, vigorous exercise, some anti-inflammatory drugs, extreme weather conditions, and extreme emotions such as anxiety, anger, and fear. Here’s more on the Common Triggers Of Asthma And Tips To Prevent Asthma.

What Are The Common Symptoms Of Asthma?

An asthma attack can cause symptoms such as shortness of breath, difficulty in breathing, wheezing, a dry, irritating and continual cough with or without expectoration (especially at night/early in the morning, or with exercise or activity) and chest tightness.  

Men Or Women — Who Are More Prone To Asthma?

Childhood asthma is more common in boys than in girls. Around age 20, the ratio of asthma between men and women is the same. At age 40, more females than males have adult asthma. The factors that can increase the risk of asthma in both genders include family history, history of allergies, smoking, and obesity.

How Is Asthma Diagnosed?

It is difficult to tell if a person has asthma, especially in kids below five years of age as there is no single test that can help in the diagnosis of the condition. Your doctor might check how well your lungs are functioning and your history of allergies to find out if you have asthma. Also, the diagnosis can be made on the basis of medical history, family history, and possible triggers. The lung function tests that are recommended include spirometry (breathing test) and peak flow monitoring.

Some of the common questions that your doctor might ask during checkup include:

-Whether you cough a lot, especially during the night

-Whether you experience difficulty in breathing post workout/exercise

-Whether you have breathing problems at certain times of the year

-Whether you have trouble performing your daily chores

-Whether you have tightness in the chest or cold for more than 10 days

-Whether anyone in your family has allergies, asthma or breathing problems

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What Are The Treatment Options?

Once diagnosed, the next step is to treat the condition with the use of medication. The treatment involves a combined approach of preventive long term asthma control medications and quick-relief medication.

The preventive long term asthma control medications help to keep asthma under control on a day-to-day basis and minimize the chances of an asthma attack. These include steroids, beta-agonists, theophylline, and leukotriene modifiers. The quick-relief medications, as the name suggests, are for rapid, short-term relief of the symptoms during an asthma attack.

Remember, the medications might not be the same for everyone with asthma as it depends on a lot of factors including the severity, symptoms, and triggers. So talk to your doctor to know the right medications and the right way to take them. Also, medication is not the only way to control asthma attack. It is important to avoid asthma triggers which can stimulate, irritate and inflame the airways and cause the symptoms to flare up. Hence, it is equally important to learn about these triggers to avoid them.

Although asthma cannot be cured, proper management of the condition with diet, lifestyle, and medication can help to control it and enable the patient to enjoy a good quality life. If you fail to use the right medications or do not stick to the treatment plan, it can not only worsen your respiratory health but can also lead to death.

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What Precautions Should Patients Take?

For the right diagnosis and treatment, it is imperative to consult the right doctor such as a pulmonologist, allergist or immunologist, who is best qualified to help you treat and manage the condition. Apart from this, here are a few tips to keep in mind.

Asthmatic patients mainly have difficulty in breathing, which can get aggravated if they contract respiratory infections. So, they need to avoid triggers, which can be different for different patients.

If you are pregnant and suffering from asthma, then it is best to discuss the treatment options with your doctor rather than avoiding the medication.

As people with asthma are at a high risk of developing complications from respiratory infections such as influenza and pneumonia, it is important to get vaccinated. Ask your doctor about the recommended one.

Follow a few lifestyle changes to keep the symptoms in check and prevent asthma attack. These include maintaining a healthy weight, being physically active, managing stress, quitting smoking, and eating a diet rich in vitamins and minerals.

(The article is reviewed by Dr. Lalit KanodiaConsultant Pharmacologist)

Recommended Reads:

Asthma In Children: Causes & Symptoms

6 Asthma Myths Busted!


1. Koul PA, Patel D. Indian guidelines for asthma: Adherence is the key. Lung India. 2015 Apr;32(Suppl 1):S1-2.

2. Learn How to Control Asthma. The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

3. Asthma. Key Facts. The World Health Organization (WHO).

4. Asthma. The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology.

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