When a person with asthma is exposed to one of their “triggers” – such as allergens, cigarette smoke, exercise or viral infections, that person’s airways will produce mucus in the airways. Exposure to an allergic trigger, such as cat dander or tree pollen sets off that person’s immune system, causing inflammation and swelling in the airways and nasal passages.
The muscles of the airway may also contract. All of these factors make it difficult to breathe.
The person with asthma may cough, wheeze, feel short of breath and have tightness in the chest. In severe asthma attacks, a person might have difficulty talking, have a blue-ish color on the lips or fingernails. Some people experience a pulling in of the muscles between the ribs or above the breast or collar bones while breathing.
Asthma is a common chronic disease of the airways that’s estimated to affect 300 million people around the world.
In the United States an astounding 26 million people have been diagnosed with asthma. For perspective, that’s more than the population of Australia.
In Canada, more than 15 per cent of children ages 4 to 11 have been diagnosed with asthma, and overall the disease affects 2.6 million Canadians.
What causes asthma?
While it is not completely understood why some people develop asthma while others don’t, your chances of developing the disease appear to hinge on a combination of genetics and the environment.
Key Risk factors:
-Family history. If your parents have asthma, you’re more likely to as well.
-A genetic tendency to be allergic. (This is called atopy.)
-Being exposed to cigarette smoke, either direct or second-hand.
-Living or going to school near air pollution from heavy traffic.
-Exposure to dust mites
* Some people develop occupational asthma as adults following prolonged exposures to sensitizing materials in the workplace. (e.g. paint, fumes or dust)
Does Asthma Go Away?
Asthma is a lifelong, chronic condition. There is no cure.
However, asthma can be successfully controlled by avoiding triggers and taking daily controller medications. Once your asthma is under control, it may be possible to reduce the amount of medication you are taking.
In some people, asthma can go into “remission” during the teenage years. However, many of these people develop symptoms again later in life.
People often wonder how asthma will affect their life and in particular, their ability to exercise and play sports. But experts agree: it shouldn’t at all!
With a combination of avoiding triggers and medication, people with asthma should be able to live active, healthy lives. In fact, it’s important that people with asthma do exercise, as this helps them build up lung capacity. See Exercise and Asthma
Who Can Help?
An asthma educator is a health professional who is certified to help people with asthma understand their disease and how to manage it. In Canada, they are called either Certified Asthma Educators (CAEs) or Certified Respiratory Educators (CREs) and they have taken specific courses and passed exams in respiratory health.
The educators work in conjunction with doctors and other health professionals to optimize the health and lifestyle of a person with asthma.
Find a CAE or CRE near you.