Asthma is a condition which affects the lives of many Australians to an almost unparalleled degree, but a disease in which the general population have a surprisingly low understanding of. While most children can recognise the wheezy noise of a sufferer’s labored breathing or the familiar shape of an “asthma puffer”, even most adults mix up the basic facts of the disease with common misconceptions. Public education has found to be the key to minimising the more serious health risks associated with asthma and open learning is encouraged across the broader population regarding the fundamental information of how to recognise, identify, prevent and handle an asthma attack.
Who can have an asthma attack?
The first thing to understand is that all sorts of people can be suffering asthmatics – not only children or the infirm. In fact, the rate of asthma in Australian adults is about the same as it is in children: around 10%. Nor does one have to have been asthmatic in childhood to suffer from it as an adult – anybody can develop symptoms at any stage of life.
What does seem to be a strong indicator that someone is at risk of asthma is if a person suffers from one or more other allergic conditions. Asthma has been linked closely to the likes of hay fever, eczema and food allergies, although the common cause, if there is one, is not known. Like these allergic conditions, asthma tends to run in families to a degree, and is often worse where living conditions or air quality is poor. Because asthma is an allergic condition rather than an infection, it can just as easily strike the fit and healthy as it can those seen as more vulnerable to disease. In fact, athletes can find themselves at increased risk of asthma after keeping to heavy, long-term training schedules.
What are the symptoms of an attack?
If you know that someone is asthmatic, you can keep a closer eye on their breathing, especially when air quality is down or there are allergy risks, such as pollen or cigarette smoke, which can make the disease harder to control. Low pressure build-ups, such as those which precede a thunderstorm, have also become a threat in recent times to trigger an asthma attack.
Alternatively, be on the lookout for sudden asthmatic attacks, which cause wheezing, shortness of breath, coughing and a feeling of tightness in the chest. It is important to note that in asthma sufferers these symptoms are always present to some degree, but risk factors cause them to become more severe.
What can I do to help?
As there is currently no cure for asthma, medical treatment focuses on managing the symptoms and minimising the severity of attacks. If you are concerned about your quality of breathing or respiratory issues, or that of a friend or family member, a general check with a qualified GP can help to diagnose and treat this disease as asthma care and management plans are available.
Children may naturally grow out of asthma, but for long-time sufferers the “puffer”/inhaler or other medication can help alleviate symptoms. If you’re aware of an oncoming asthma attack, see if the asthmatic person needs help locating some medicine; if you live with them, having a spare inhaler in the house can be a good emergency measure. Severe attacks may require a trip to the emergency room, so learning the triggers, signs and symptoms of an asthma attack and knowing what to do in the situation of an asthma attack is highly recommended.
For more information on what do in an emergency or to learn more about the disease visit www.asthmaaustralia.org.au