Asthma is a chronic lung disease that affects the airways within the lungs. With asthma, the airways are extra-sensitive to certain triggers that cause the airways to narrow due to swelling of the airway, constriction of the muscles around the airways (bronchoconstriction),or both.
Symptoms can include: wheezing, coughing, chest tightness, and shortness of breath. The symptoms of asthma may happen infrequently or they may be present every day. How severe the symptoms are will be different from person to person and may even change within a person from time to time.
Certain things can make your airways become:
-Swollen and filled with mucus – the swelling and mucus makes your airways narrower, so it is hard for air to pass through.
-Small and tight – your airways might also become twitchy and squeeze together and tighten. This makes your airways narrower and hard for air to pass through.
An estimated 8.6% of New Brunswick residents live with asthma. Approximately 12% of Canadian children and up to 20% of boys aged 8-11 may have asthma. Asthma cannot be cured, but symptoms can be controlled by reducing exposure to triggers of airway swelling or bronchoconstriction, and through proper use of medications.
What is asthma control?
When asthma is under control, symptoms such as cough, wheeze, shortness of breath, and chest tightness don’t happen very often. The Canadian Asthma Consensus Guidelines say that well-controlled asthma means:
- symptoms during the day happen less than 3 times per week;
- symptoms during the night happen less than once a week;
- symptoms do not stop a person from being physically active;
- flare-ups do not happen often and if they do occur, they are mild;
- a reliever medication is not needed more than 3 times a week (doesn’t include using 1 dose/day to prevent symptoms caused by exercise)
Why is asthma control important?
Asthma control is important because asthma symptoms can interfere with activities, school, work, and sleep. Uncontrolled or poorly controlled asthma can cause permanent damage to the airways in the lungs and may lead to death, even in people with mild asthma.
How is asthma controlled?
The first and most important step to gaining control over asthma is to become educated about asthma and how to avoid or minimize exposure to triggers. Avoiding triggers is the best way to prevent symptoms, but this is not always possible. Controller medications such as inhaled corticosteroids reduce swelling in the airways which makes the airways
less sensitive to triggers.
A written asthma action plan (developed by the doctor) and a symptom diary are important tools to catch and treat asthma flare-ups early so they don’t result in a visit to the emergency room.
Download our Asthma Action Plan to help you manage your asthma.
Learn more about Asthma from our brochure, or our new Asthma One Pager, and check out our Healthy Living with Asthma Guide.