To mark World Asthma Day which is May 1st, I discuss asthma over the next few weeks. Asthma is a long-term condition that can cause a cough, wheezing and breathlessness. Asthma is one of the most common long-term conditions in Ireland.
With asthma, the airways become over-sensitive and react to things that would normally not cause a problem, such as cold air or dust. Muscles around the wall of the airway tighten up, making it narrow and difficult for the air to flow in and out. The lining of the airways swells and sticky mucus is produced. This makes it difficult for air to move in and out and why the chest has to work so much. Tightening of muscle around the airways can happen quickly and is the most common cause of mild asthma.
Facts about asthma
The exact cause of asthma is not known. Approximately 470,000 people have asthma in Ireland meaning one in 8 of the population suffer from it. Ireland has the fourth highest prevalence of asthma in the world after Australia, New Zealand and the UK.
There is a strong genetic link, meaning that it can run in families. If a parent has asthma, the risk of their child getting it doubles. If both parents have it, it doubles again. Asthma can start at any age, but most commonly starts in childhood. Asthma in children is more common in boys than girls. Children who develop asthma at a very young age are more likely to 'grow out' of the condition as they get older. A child with asthma should be taught to recognise the initial symptoms of an asthma attack, how they should respond, and when they should seek medical attention.
Adult onset asthma may develop after a respiratory tract infection. In many cases, asthma disappears during teenage years. Many people with asthma also suffer from other allergic conditions such as hayfever, eczema and hives. Many aspects of modern living such as changes in housing, diet and a more sterile home environment may have contributed to the rise in asthma over the last few decades.
Symptoms include difficulty in breathing/shortness of breath, a tight feeling in the chest, wheezing (a whistling noise in the chest), coughing, particularly at night and hoarseness. Episodes at night are common, often affecting sleep.
Anything that irritates the airways and brings on the symptoms of asthma is called a trigger. Common triggers include house dust mites, animal fur, pollen, tobacco smoke, exercise, cold air and chest infections. Other triggers which are less common include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen (Nurofen®) and diclofenac (Difene®), emotional factors such as stress, sulphites in some foods and drinks (found in certain wines and used as a preservative in some foods such as fruit juices and jam), mould or damp in houses and food allergies (eg) nut allergy.
To be continued...
Next week I will discuss asthma attacks, diagnosis, and prevention and reliever inhalers.
Disclaimer: Please ensure you consult with your healthcare professional before making any changes recommended