Written by the home doctor townsville team

Asthma is a long-term condition affecting one’s ability to breathe. It is a significant cause of illness and poorer quality of life among many adults and children. Understanding the condition, individual triggers and treatment options is essential to maintaining quality of life.   

What is asthma?  

Asthma is a very common condition, affecting 1 in 9 Australians, approximately 2.5million people. Asthma affects the lungs and during an asthma attack the lining of the airways swell, phlegm builds up and the muscles around the airways tighten. This is known as bronchoconstriction and results in difficulty to breathe normally.   

What causes asthma?  

The cause of asthma is still not fully understood and we are yet to determine why some people have it and others don’t. However, family history of asthma, eczema or hay fever and exposure to cigarette smoke from a young age are thought to increase the likelihood of the illness occurring.  

What triggers an asthma attack?  

The severity of asthma related symptoms vary from person to person. Individuals may identify certain ‘triggers’ for their asthma which worsen their symptoms and tend to initiate an attack. These include:   

  • Cold and flu (especially in children)  
  • Exercise  
  • Pollens, moulds and grasses  
  • Animal hair and dander  
  • Dust mites  
  • Cigarette smoke  
  • Medication (aspirin and some blood pressure medication)  
  • Chemicals (Strong smells and aerosol sprays)  
  • Some emotions (e.g. stress)  

Symptoms of an asthma attack  

Symptoms of an attack can develop slowly or suddenly and typically include the following:   

  • Coughing  
  • Wheezing  
  • Difficulty breathing   
  • Tightness in the chest  

How do you treat asthma?  

While there is no cure for asthma the right treatment plan and regular check ups are essential for managing symptoms and leading an active, normal life.   

Asthma is generally treated with a metered dose inhaler (MDI) or puffer. A spacer is often required for children and is recommended to help draw medication deep into the lungs during an attack.   

There are three types of medication for asthma treatment, depending on the severity:   

  • Relievers: Are used when needed to help rapidly open narrowed airways.   
  • Preventers: Are taken daily to help prevent attacks by treating inflamed airways.  
  • Symptom controllers: Help keep narrowed airways open for longer, but do not help during an attack.

What to do if you think you have asthma  

Visiting your GP, confirming a diagnosis and developing an Asthma Action Plan is essential to helping manage the illness. Asthma can generally be treated at home by using a puffer, as directed by your healthcare professional. Here are some tips to staying on top of your asthma management:   

  1. Always carry your inhaler with you.  
  1. Monitor your symptoms and identify any triggers mentioned above.   
  1. Keep active and healthy.  
  1. Have regular check-ups with your doctor.  
  1. Follow your Asthma Action Plan.