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What is Asthma?

by Tash Hughes of Word Constructions

Asthma is such a common disease now that everybody has heard of it and probably knows a few people who have it.

In fact, over two million Australians have asthma; that is about 10% of the population. It is both common and real.

Yet, unless you have studied it or had it explained by a doctor, you may wonder what asthma actually is.

What does it feel like?

For anyone who has never had an asthma attack, it is very hard to understand what it feels like. It is similar to be being puffed after running up a hill, but not quite the same; for one thing, it is much scarier.

To get a feel for asthma, put a normal drinking straw in your mouth and hold your nose closed. Now jog on the spot for a minute. How’s your breathing going? Notice the sensations of breathing in and your chest getting pained? That is similar to how asthmatics feel during an attack. (Note: asthmatics will bring on an attack if they try this exercise so it is NOT recommended.)

Childhood asthmatic, Ally, described her asthma attacks as “the more you try to breath the less you feel like you are breathing.”

What is an asthma attack?

The small air sacs and airways of the lungs become irritated. Thus, they swell and can fill with mucous.

This leaves less space in the airways for air to move through and it becomes hard to get enough air into the lungs. This results in chest pain and an overwhelming desire to breathe rapidly which actually worsens the situation.

Asthma can be life threatening and so must be taken seriously. An asthma attack can develop into a more serious attack or it can just exhaust the patient such that a mild attack can become fatal.

What causes asthma?

In general, asthma is caused by an irritation of the airways.

What causes the irritation varies between people and between attacks. Some common irritants or triggers are:

  • Dust
  • Pollen
  • Dust mites
  • Tobacco
  • Allergens (things that cause allergy in some people)
  • Hayfever
  • Viral infections such as a cold or flu
  • Animal hair
  • Sudden weather or temperature changes
  • Exercise (this can be managed so exercise should not be avoided as a trigger)

You are more likely to develop asthma if

  • You have eczema or hayfever
  • There is a family history of asthma, hayfever and/or eczema
  • You were exposed to cigarette smoke before birth and during early childhood

There is no cure for asthma, but the disease can be managed.

Medication is available to prevent attacks and relieve the symptoms. Attacks can be minimised by avoiding known triggers as much as possible and by leading a generally healthy lifestyle, including fresh foods and exercise.

It is important to develop an asthma plan with your doctor so that everyone knows what to do to avoid attacks and deal with them when they occur.

Asthma is more common in children than adults, but first attacks can occur at any age. Some children appear to ‘grow out of it’, but these people will still have more sensitive airways than non-asthmatics.

What if I have an attack?

People identified as having an asthma attack previously should have a plan in place with their doctor and know what to do.

For patients having their first asthma attack, it is wise to see a doctor soon afterwards to discuss the disease. By learning about asthma and your triggers, you can manage it and reduce the likelihood of attacks.

Having asthma is serious but need not change your life very much. Learning about your disease is the first step to leading a normal life, and then some simple precautions can be followed to minimise attacks and complications.

If you witness someone having an asthma attack, follow these guidelines:

  • Have the patient sit upright
  • Reassure the patient and keep them calm
  • Encourage slow, careful breaths
  • If concerned, call an ambulance
  • Give four separate puffs of reliever medication if they have it available
  • Wait four minutes before giving another four puffs
  • Call an ambulance after two sets of four puffs without improvement
  • Continue with puffs every four minutes until the ambulance arrives


Tash Hughes is the owner of Word Constructions and is available to solve all your business writing problems! From letters to policies, newsletters to web content, Word Constructions writes all business documents to your style and satisfaction.


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