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Asthma

asthma; management; plan; reliever; medication; preventer; triggers; breathing; lungs; airways; wheezing; cough; smoking; first; aid; wheeze;

Contents

Many teenagers have asthma, or have had it when they were younger. Some people have problems due to their asthma most days, but most people have difficulty breathing only occasionally.

Most people with asthma can do just about everything everyone else can. Some really famous Australian sports people have asthma, including Olympic swimmers Sam Riley and Matthew Dunn, and record breaking long distance swimmer Susie Moroney.

Asthma is one of the most common reasons why students have to take time off school.

To keep asthma under control it is really important to be well educated about your asthma and how to manage it. Your doctor and your local asthma association can give you detailed information about how to manage your asthma.

If you have a younger friend, brother or sister who has asthma, the topics on our Kids’ Health site may be easier for them to understand.

  • See a doctor if you have any difficulties in breathing.
  • If you have been diagnosed with asthma, make sure you have an asthma management plan in place, including what to do if you get a bad attack.

What is asthma?

  • Asthma affects the small airways in the lungs (bronchioles).
  • People with asthma have more sensitive airways than other people. Certain triggers make the airways narrower for a few hours or days, making it hard to breathe.
  • In between attacks, the airways are a normal size.
  • No one knows for sure why some people get asthma. It tends to run in families and is related to eczema and hay fever.

What happens?

  • There are muscles around the airways. In an asthma attack those muscles tighten. This squeezes the airways, making them smaller.
  • The lining inside the airways swells, making the airway smaller still.
  • Extra mucus may be produced in the airway, blocking the airway further.
  • This all makes it very hard to breathe.

What are the main symptoms of asthma?

Some of the most common symptoms are:

  • wheezing – a high pitched sound when breathing
  • coughing
  • shortness of breath
  • tightness in the chest.

What triggers asthma?

There are many things that can trigger an asthma attack. It's important to know what triggers your attacks, to help you manage your asthma. Some of the common triggers are:

  • virus infections such as 'colds'
  • cigarette smoke
  • exercise
  • inhaled allergens (such as pollens, moulds, animal hair and dust mites)
  • changes in temperature and weather
  • chemicals and strong smells
  • some drugs, eg. aspirin
  • some foods and food preservatives.

Managing your asthma

Asthma cannot be cured, but it can be controlled. Getting asthma under control means that you can do the normal things that you want to do without wheezing, being short of breath or coughing.

  • Taking medications:
    • If you have very mild asthma that happens only a few times a year, you may be able to manage just with a reliever inhaler (medication that opens the airways during an asthma attack). Reliever medication is often used before exercise if exercise triggers asthma for that person.
    • Many people are better off if they also take preventer medication, so that they avoid having asthma attacks. Preventer medication is taken regularly, even when the person does not have symptoms of asthma.
  • An important part of management is education. Get to know as much as you can about asthma.
  • Get to know your triggers and learn ways to avoid them, or take your medication when you can't.
  • Choose not to smoke. Avoid smoky places. Make your home and car a no smoking zone.
  • Exercise and be active.
  • Become aware of the early warning signs that tell you an attack is coming on and know what to do about it. These signs are different for everyone.
  • Visit your doctor often and work out an asthma management plan.
    • This will include how to recognise a really bad attack coming on and what to do about it.
    • Get to know how to use your inhaler (puffer) - and spacer if you use it - properly so it is effective.
    • Talk to your doctor about whether you need to use a peak flow meter. This is an instrument that is used for measuring your lung function. It tells you if your airways are beginning to narrow.
  • There is some evidence that having a balanced diet with lots of fruit and vegetables can reduce asthma symptoms. So check out the topic Healthy eating to learn about this.

How do you help a friend who is having an asthma attack?

  • Don't panic. This could upset your friend.
  • Your friend will know what to do, so ask your friend what she or he wants you to do.
  • Stay calm while your friend uses the puffer.
  • If your friend needs to take another lot of medication after a few minutes and isn't any better, send someone to get help from a parent or teacher.
  • Stay with your friend and talk quietly to him or her.
  • Wait for an adult to arrive.

Asthma First Aid

The Asthma Foundation of South Australia has published Asthma First Aid. Perhaps you could print it off and keep it handy if you have asthma.

How serious is it?

A lot of kids have asked “Can people can die from asthma?” Unfortunately the answer is yes. But, dying from asthma now is rare, since most people have asthma management plans which can prevent or treat most of their attacks.

Becoming independent

Let's face it, many parents worry about their children no matter how old they get, and having asthma is something else that worries them. But once you are a teenager, you're starting to become independent – and having your parents nag about asthma can get annoying and make you feel like a kid.

  • Your parents may have been worried about asthma for years. It will take a long time for them to stop worrying, so try and be patient with them.
  • The best way to deal with this is to show them how well you can manage your asthma on your own. Show them that you know your asthma management plan and asthma first aid plan.
  • Let your parents know all the things you're doing to manage your asthma well and they'll feel more reassured and keep off your back, at least just a bit.

Things that can be difficult if you have asthma

There are a lot of things that make young people with asthma really fed up.

  • Young people say their friends don't understand, and some friends even think it's imaginary or an excuse to get out of sport.
  • Other young people talk about the drag of carrying medication, especially those who have to carry several types at once.
  • Other people are upset about being allergic to a favourite pet.
  • Many people with asthma are just plain scared, remembering a time it was hard to breathe.

If friends don't understand, you could try giving them a pamphlet from an asthma association or, if you're at school, tell your teacher about your concern and ask if one of your health lessons can be about asthma.

  • If you're allergic to a pet, try keeping the pet outside, away from where you sleep and the furniture you use.
  • Following your asthma plan and managing your asthma are the best ways to avoid getting frightened about an attack.
  • A lot of people find it helpful to talk to other people who also have asthma. Phone your local community health centre or youth health service to see if there are any support groups happening. If there aren't any groups running, your call might be the one that will get a group off the ground and running.

Josh says:

“Don’t use asthma as an excuse to give up sport or exercise. If you use your medication properly, there is no reason for you to stop exercising. It’s not cool to hang about doing nothing. Exercising is about friends, teamwork, building bones, helping bodies to work properly and feeling good about yourself. Follow your asthma plan and enjoy life”.

Resources

  • Asthma Foundation of South Australia
    Breathe Better Health Line 1800 645 130
    http://www.asthmasa.org.au
  • Your family doctor
  • Your local community health centre
  • Your local hospital

Resources in other languages

Further reading

Asthma Foundation of South Australia  - have a look at some of their Fact Sheets for good ideas about preventing asthma attacks).
http://www.asthmasa.org.au

National Asthma Council Australia:
http://www.nationalasthma.org.au

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The information on this site should not be used as an alternative to professional care. If you have a particular problem, see a doctor, or ring the Youth Healthline on 1300 13 17 19 (local call cost from anywhere in South Australia).
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