Asthma at a glance
Asthma is a condition that affects the airways – the small tubes that carry air to the lungs. It affects about 2.7 million people in Australia and about 600,000 people in New Zealand.
From time to time, people with asthma find it hard to breathe, because their airways become narrower. At other times, their breathing is normal.
Symptoms can include wheezing, coughing, chest tightness and shortness of breath. These symptoms can be triggered by different things for different people.
Common triggers can include allergy-related triggers, cigarette smoke, viral infections such as colds and flu, weather, work-related triggers such as wood dust or chemicals and exercise.
There is no simple test for the diagnosis of asthma – doctors will consider the patient’s symptoms and any other health issues, do a chest exam and often conduct a breathing test (called spirometry).
Asthma tends to run in families, so doctors will also ask about family members with asthma.
There is no cure for asthma, but it can usually be well controlled. Good asthma management and education can help people with asthma lead active, healthy lives.
What you can do
Asthma is not yet curable, but it can be managed. For good asthma control, you need:
- Medicines – taken the right way, at the right time
- Regular medical visits for check-ups and to learn more about living with asthma
- An action plan, so you know what to do when symptoms happen
Medications are key to asthma management. Ask your doctor, pharmacist or asthma educator about the role of each of your medications, as well as for written instructions on when and how to use them. Ensure you know the possible side effects of your medication, so you understand what is and isn’t normal.
If you have any concerns about your medications, please speak to a health professional sooner rather than later.
If you have been prescribed preventer medication, including a combination therapy, keep taking it even when you feel well. It needs to be taken regularly and long-term to work effectively.
Your Asthma Action Plan
Written asthma action plans help people with asthma or their carer recognise when their asthma is getting worse and give clear instructions on how to reduce or prevent an asthma attack.
Together with your doctor develop your personal asthma action plan and keep a copy of your plan at home, school or work and consider sharing a copy or photo of it with family or friends.
Asthma action plans should be reviewed regularly as asthma can change over time.
All adults and children need careful training from a doctor, nurse, asthma educator or pharmacist to use inhaled medicines correctly.
Proper use of inhalers helps medicines work properly, can reduce the risk of side effects and is essential for good asthma management. The instructions are different for each type of inhaler device.
The National Asthma Council Australia’s how-to video library has technique tips to help you use common inhalers and nasal sprays.