Asthma is a chronic (long-term) disease that makes breathing difficult. At its
worst, asthma can be fatal. For example, in 2003, asthma killed 287 Canadians.
Asthma can't be cured, but it can be managed. With proper treatment, people
with asthma can lead normal, active lives.
If you have asthma, your
airways (breathing passages) are extra sensitive, and when you are around
certain "triggers," your extra-sensitive airways can:
- Become red, swollen, and inflamed, filling up with
mucus. The swelling and mucus make your airways narrower, so it's harder
for the air to pass through.
- Become "twitchy" and go into spasm as the
muscles around your airways squeeze together and tighten. This makes your
airways narrower, again leaving less room for the air to pass through. The
more red and swollen your airways are, the more twitchy
What sets off
your asthma symptoms?
Many different things can set off your asthma symptoms. Each person with asthma
has her own set of asthma inducers and asthma triggers.
- Asthma inducers: If you breathe in something
you're allergic to—for example, dust or pollen—or if you have a
viral infection, a cold, or the flu, your airways can become inflamed.
- Asthma triggers: If you breathe in an asthma
trigger like cold air or smoke, or if you exercise, the muscles around
your airways can go into spasm and squeeze together tightly.
It's important for every
person with asthma to know what their triggers and inducers are, so they can
Doctors know that there are some things that make a person more likely to get
- Family history: if people in your family have
allergic diseases like asthma, hay fever (allergic rhinitis), or eczema,
there is a higher chance you will have asthma.
- Air pollution indoors and out: some research shows
that people who live near major highways and other polluted places are
more likely to get asthma. Also, kids who grow up in a home with mold or
dust may be more likely to get asthma.
- Work-related asthma (occupational exposure): People
who work in certain types of jobs can get asthma from things they work
with. For example:
- Laboratory workers can get
asthma from lab animals: rats, mice, guinea-pigs
- Spray painters can get
asthma from isocyanates
- Grain handlers can get
asthma from grain dust
- Crab processors can get
asthma from crab dust
- Second-hand smoke: Kids whose mothers smoked while
pregnant, or who grow up in house with smokers, are more likely to get
1. Take control
Work with your doctor to get your asthma under control because for most people
with asthma, it's possible to lead a healthy and active life. If you have
asthma attacks or feel your asthma symptoms several times per week, your asthma
is probably not as controlled as it could be. See your doctor, and ask for help
to achieve better asthma control.
Signs of good
- You have daytime symptoms less than four times per
- You don't miss school or work because of asthma
- Your physical activity is not limited by asthma
- Nighttime symptoms disturb your sleep less than once
- You have not had to take your asthma rescue medicine
(blue inhaler) more than three times a week, except before exercising.
Signs of poor
- You wake up at night because of coughing, wheezing or
feeling short of breath more than one time per week
- Your rescue inhaler (blue puffer) doesn't work
quickly or completely to remove your asthma symptoms
- You are using your rescue medication more than three
times a week (except during exercise)
- Your asthma symptoms are stopping you from doing
regular activities like exercise
have any one of these signs, see your doctor. Follow your doctor's advice as
written in your asthma action plan.
If you don't have an
asthma action plan, print one out and ask your doctor to help you complete it.
Your doctor can explain what you should do if you are running into problems
with your asthma. You can also ask a Certified Asthma Educator to explain how
to use your asthma action plan to manage your asthma symptoms.
2. Follow your
written asthma action plan
To take the guesswork out of managing your asthma, use
an asthma action plan. Studies show that people who use their asthma action
plan have better asthma control.
Your asthma action plan
- What symptoms you should watch for
- What your symptoms mean
- How to adjust your medication according to your
- When to call the doctor or 911
doctor to fill out an asthma action plan for you. Make sure you understand what
the plan says. If you have any questions, ask your doctor. You can also discuss
your action plan with a Certified Asthma Educator, a healthcare professional
with special training in asthma management.
3. Avoid your
The best way to control you asthma is to make sure you
stay away from triggers. Asthma triggers are things that make your asthma
symptoms worse by irritating your airways. Asthma triggers make the muscles
around your airways squeeze tightly.
Asthma triggers cause
- Usually come on suddenly
- May not last very long
- May be easy to relieve with a blue rescue inhaler
Each person will have his
own set of asthma triggers. Some common asthma triggers are fumes, smoke, and
Other asthma triggers
Most people's triggers are inhaled (breathed in), but asthma symptoms may also
be triggered by things you eat, drink, or swallow, like medications, for
- Sulphites (used to preserve some food,
like dried fruit and red wine)
- MSG (a flavor enhancer for some food)
- Aspirin (never let a child or teen take aspirin)
Some people with asthma
also have food allergies. People with any allergy that causes anaphylactic
shock should keep their Epipen with them at all
4. Avoid your
Asthma inducers make your airways swollen, red, and filled with mucus. If you
avoid asthma inducers, such as viral infections and allergies, you'll have
fewer asthma symptoms.
Asthma inducers cause
- May come on slowly
- May take a while to treat
- Can be treated with long-term asthma medicines
It may be hard to figure
out which triggers or inducers give you asthma symptoms. It helps if you pay
attention to when your asthma gets worse. Is it when the air is cold? When you
are near your neighbor’s cat? Paying attention to your symptoms will give
you clues about your triggers and inducers.
You can find out what
your allergies are by getting allergy tests, including a skin prick allergy
Keep in mind, asthma
triggers and inducers can work in combination. For example, if your airways are
already swollen because you have a chest infection, and then you go into a
smoky room, your airways are less able that usual to cope with the smoke.
There's no need to get
rid of every possible asthma trigger and inducer, just the ones that set off
YOUR asthma. It's expensive and time-consuming to eliminate all possible
triggers and inducers from your surroundings. Sometimes people spend a lot of
money fixing things that might be triggers for other people but aren't triggers
for them. In the end, they may still be exposed to the things that trigger
their asthma. For example, they may give away the family dog when it's really
pollen that triggers their asthma symptoms. So again, you don't have to get rid
of every possible asthma trigger and inducer—just the ones that bother
5. Take your
asthma medications as prescribed
To keep your asthma well-controlled and to prevent
asthma attacks, it's very important to take your asthma medications exactly as
prescribed by your doctor. Taking your medication regularly means you can avoid
Many people think they
can skip their medications when they don't feel sick, unfortunately that's not
true. Asthma is a chronic disease, which means you have it all the time, even
when you don't feel symptoms. That's why taking your
medication as prescribed is so important.