ASTHMA - General information

What is Asthma?

Asthma is a chronic illness that can range from mild to severe. This means there is no cure, it will always affect your lungs to a certain extent. Asthma affects 8.4% of Canadians. Uncontrolled asthma is very common, however, proper medication and good self-management skills can help most people gain control of their asthma.

When someone has asthma, factors in the environment and physical processes inside the body can activate your immune system. Normally, the body’s immune system protects us from harmful bacteria, viruses, allergens and toxins. But in asthma, the immune system reacts to things that do not necessarily pose a threat, such as allergens (e.g. dust mites in the air you breathe, pet dander, pollens, etc.). Protective cells release chemicals that cause swelling in the airways.

What are the symptoms of asthma?

Asthma can range from very mild to more severe. Here are some of the common symptoms of asthma that are caused by airway inflammation and muscle spasm:

  • Cough, with or without mucus/phlegm (e.g. bringing up phlegm)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Tightening of the chest
  • Wheezing
  • Activity limitation

Symptoms may be triggered or worsened by factors such as viral infections, common allergens, irritants (tobacco smoke, strong odors), exercise and stress. In some cases, these respiratory symptoms can also be triggered by exercise or occur at night. Speak with your resource person (your asthma educator) to check what symptoms you may still feel when you are at your best.

How to know if my asthma is well controlled?

Good asthma control means your symptoms (including flare-ups or periods of worsening of symptoms) are minimized. The following are indicators of asthma control:

  • Daytime symptoms occur three times per week or less
  • You don't miss school, work or your activities because of asthma symptoms. Your asthma doesn’t get in the way of exercise and physical activity
  • Symptoms do not disturb your sleep (or at most only one night a week)
  • You need your reliever (rescue medication) less than four times per week​

How is asthma managed?

Remember: The goal of properly managing your disease is to achieve control. The following must be included in a comprehensive treatment plan for asthma:

 

  • Taking your medication as prescribed
  • Preventing and controlling flare-ups or worsening of symptoms by following your Asthma Action Plan
  • Engaging in physical activity and exercise. If you need support, you may join a pulmonary rehabilitation program
  • Avoiding triggers in your environment and making changes to your lifestyle to stay healthy

The objective will be to optimize your global treatment and help you master the needed skills to manage your disease on a day-to-day basis.

It is important to contact your doctor and resource person when you have a flare-up so that they may guide you with your Action Plan and monitor your improvement. People with more severe or frequent symptoms may need to be followed more closely to monitor lung function and to review their Asthma Action Plan.

Can people with asthma get better?

Asthma can have an impact on your job, hobbies, and social relationships. You and your loved ones may worry about the next time your symptoms get out of control.

However, there are many things that can be done to help you managing this chronic disease. Your doctor may refer you to other professionals (respiratory educator, pharmacist, social worker, etc.) to help you explore ways to cope with your asthma.

How professionals can help you

  • Ensure you take your medication as prescribed and voice your concerns about your asthma and your medication
  • Check your inhaler technique so you become an expert at it
  • Develop and integrate your Asthma Action Plan
  • Give you tips to improve your asthma control and avoid triggers (allergies, infections, etc.)
  • Cope better with any difficulties: depression, stress, anxiety, social factors
  • For some people, assess and manage co-morbidities (other health conditions associated with your asthma)