Causes of asthma
The exact causes of asthma are unknown. However, a number of factors are believed to contribute to its development, including:
Environmental: Allergens, pollutants and irritants you may be exposed to at home, school or at work (such as dust mites, pet hair/skin and pollen)
- Individual: Being overweight, your diet and smoking. Smoking, including second-hand smoke, is associated with a high risk of asthma
- Genetic: If you have a family history of asthma, eczema or allergies.
Something that causes an asthma attack is called a trigger.
There are many triggers that can cause an asthma attack. One person with asthma may have different triggers to another, and some people may have several.
Triggers include allergens (dust mites, pet hair/skin and pollen), emotional responses (fear, anxiety or anger), infections and physical exertion. Allergic asthma is the most common form of asthma and can be triggered by many different allergens.
Tobacco smoke is a high risk for triggering an asthma attack. You should try to limit your exposure to allergens and if you smoke, your doctor or pharmacist can offer support in quitting.
Symptoms of asthma
Common asthma symptoms include:
- A tight chest, difficulty breathing and shortness of breath (like a band tightening around your chest)
- Wheezing chest (which can make a whistling sound when you breathe)
- Coughing (particularly at night and early morning).
Not all of these symptoms may be present at the same time, and you may experience different symptoms at different times. Symptoms may be more common or worse at night or early in the morning.
Your asthma can usually be successfully managed by using two types of inhaled medication:
- Controllers (sometimes called preventers or maintenance therapy): Controllers are used daily, usually morning and night. They target inflammation of the airways in order to control and reduce the symptoms of asthma.
- Relievers: Relievers are used as needed for symptom relief. These work by relaxing and opening up the airways when asthma symptoms occur.
It’s important to understand what ‘well-controlled asthma’ means. Answering these simple questions can tell you whether your asthma is well controlled or could be better controlled.
During the past 4 weeks:
Has your asthma prevented you from getting as much done at work, school or home?
- Have you been short of breath?
- Have asthma symptoms such as wheezing, coughing, chest pain, chest tightness or shortness of breath kept you awake at night or woken you earlier than usual?
- Have you used your reliever inhaler more than 2-3 times a week?
If you answered ‘yes’ to any of these questions, your asthma may not be as well controlled as it could be. You should speak to your doctor about reviewing your treatment.
In severe cases, poorly controlled asthma can lead to hospitalisation and may be fatal.
Always take your asthma treatment as your doctor has instructed.
Using your controller inhaler (maintenance therapy) every day will help you to control the underlying causes of your asthma symptoms. It is important to continue to take your medication even if your symptoms improve and you are feeling better, otherwise symptoms may return. If your asthma has been controlled for more than 3 months your doctor may be able to reduce the strength of your maintenance therapy.
Knowing how to use your inhaler correctly is important. You want to be sure you’re getting the medication needed to treat your asthma properly.
If you are experiencing any asthma symptoms, speak to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist.