Asthma is a condition in which the airways swell and narrow, and produce extra mucus. This makes breathing difficult, and it may trigger other symptoms such as wheezing, coughing, and shortness of breath. In some cases, asthma is a minor nuisance, but in some others, it can be a major problem that interferes with normal life and may lead to life threatening complications.
Asthma cannot be cured, however, its symptoms can be managed. According to the latest World Health Organization (WHO) data published in 2014 Asthma Deaths in Myanmar totaled 13,297, or in other words, 3.34% of total deaths. In Myanmar, the age adjusted Death Rate is 34.30 per 100,000 of population, which ranks Myanmar number 2 in the world.
Symptoms of asthma vary from person to person. Some have infrequent asthma attacks, and have symptoms only in certain situations such as when exercising, and some others have symptoms all the time.
Common signs and symptoms include:
- Chest tightness or pain
- Shortness of breath
- Trouble sleeping due to shortness of breath, coughing or wheezing
- A wheezing or whistling sound when exhaling
- Wheezing or coughing attacks that become worse by a respiratory virus such as a flu or cold
The following signs could mean that the asthma is worsening:
- Asthma symptoms that are more frequent and troublesome
- The need to use an inhaler more often
- Increased difficulty breathing
In some patients, the signs and symptoms of asthma show up in certain situations that include:
- Occupational asthma, which is triggered by workplace pollutants or irritants such as chemical gases, fumes, or dust
- Exercise-induced asthma, which worsens when the air is dry or cold
- Allergy-induced asthma, which is triggered by particular allergens or irritants such as cockroaches, pet dander, or pollen
When to see a doctor
Severe asthma attacks need immediate medical attention as they can be life-threatening. So, you must know what to do in case such a situation arises. Signs and symptoms of an asthma emergency are:
- Rapid worsening of wheezing or shortness of breath
- When a quick-relief inhaler such as albuterol does not help
- Shortness of breath even with minimal physical activity
Other than these emergency situations, you should contact your doctor:
- If you think you might have asthma
- If your symptoms become worse
- For continuous monitoring of asthma after getting a diagnosis
- To review asthma treatment
The key to stopping asthma attacks is long term control and prevention. Treatment of asthma usually involves learning to identify the triggers, making efforts to avoid them, and the tracking your breathing to ensure your daily medications are working to keep your symptoms under control. For flare-ups doctors usually prescribe quick relief inhalers.
The right medications for a particular patient depends on a number of things —age, asthma triggers, symptoms, and what works best for him/her to keep the asthma under control. Long term medications are used to reduce the inflammation in the airways that cause symptoms. Bronchodilators or quick relief inhalers quickly open the inflamed or swollen airways that are limiting breathing. Some patients also require allergy medications.
Asthma is usually a chronic conditions, although in some cases, it goes into long periods of remission. Long term prognosis of the illness depends on its severity:
In mild to moderate cases, it can improve over time. Many adults even become completely symptom free. In some severe cases as well, adults may get better depending on the degree of obstruction in the lungs and effectiveness of promptness of treatment. However, in approximately 10% of severe cases, there are changes in the structure of the walls of the airways, which causes irreversible and progressive problems in lung function despite aggressive treatment.
Unfortunately, there is no way to prevent asthma, but you and your doctor can work together to design a treatment plan for living with your asthmatic condition, and preventing asthma attacks.
- Follow your asthma treatment plan properly
- Get influenza and pneumonia vaccinations
- Identify and avoid asthma triggers
- Monitor your breathing
- Take your medication as prescribed
- Identify and treat attacks early