Health Q&A

Asthma: What you should know and why

May 2, 2017

According to the World Health Organisation, 235 million people worldwide live with asthma. And it’s the most common chronic disease among children. Yet, surprisingly, it’s an under-diagnosed and under-treated condition. But this can change, and World Asthma Day is one way we can all make this change together.

Taking place on the first Tuesday of May every year, World Asthma Day is an annual event organised by the Global Initiative for Asthma (GINA) to improve asthma awareness and care around the world. And with last month seeing the 19th World Asthma Day, we wanted to give you all the facts to help raise awareness, improve care and change those startling statistics.

Here’s what you should know about asthma to prepare you for next year’s World Asthma Day!

What is asthma?

In short, asthma is a condition that affects the tubes carrying air in and out of your lungs. This means that an asthma patient has ‘sensitive’ airways. So, when something irritates them, the body reacts by narrowing those airways, making it difficult to breathe.

There are several causes of asthma such as genes, a tendency to allergies, or smoking. Typically, asthma tends to run in families. Sometimes, people with asthma find that something specific triggers their asthma. These triggers can be car fumes, cold weather, exercise, or a common cold.

What are the symptoms of asthma?

Asthma varies in severity, and everyone experiences slightly different symptoms. The most common symptoms are:

  • Wheezing (a whistling sound when breathing)
  • Coughing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Tightness in the chest

Asthma patients may experience these symptoms only occasionally, or in some cases, they can get temporarily worse. When this happens, it’s known as an asthma attack.

How is asthma diagnosed?

If you experience any of these symptoms, you should go to your doctor, who will be able to diagnose the problem. Several conditions mimic the symptoms of asthma, such as an allergy or a chest infection, but your doctor will be able to spot the difference by asking you some easy questions about your symptoms and by doing some simple breathing tests.

Can asthma be treated?

There’s no cure for asthma. But the good news is that asthma is easily treated and treatment can be covered by medical aid insurance. Treatment helps keep symptoms under control so you’re able to live a totally normal, and active, life.

For both adults and children with asthma, doctors will usually prescribe an inhaler. There are two types of inhalers – a reliever inhaler and a preventer inhaler. Reliever inhalers do exactly that – relieve. This is needed when symptoms come on quickly and unexpectedly. A preventer inhaler is meant to be taken on a regular basis to stop symptoms from happening.

If you are diagnosed with asthma, then your doctor will recommend that you take the preventer inhaler once or twice a day and the reliever inhaler only when you really need to. This does mean you’ll need to obtain both inhalers for as long as you have asthma. And, while this can be costly, as health care experts, this is something Topmed can help you with.

Although asthma is a manageable condition to live with, awareness and care for those with asthma can be improved. The Global Initiative for Asthma (GINA) has dedicated the first Tuesday in May every year to making noise about this chronic disease. Visit the GINA website to see how you can get involved and help raise awareness.