Dr Caitlin: The Causes, Symptoms And Management Of Asthma

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rsz_dr_caitlin_oconnorDr Caitlin O’Connor of Tralee Medical Centre in St Brendan’s Park on the serious issue of asthma in Ireland…

Asthma is a serious problem.

Ireland has the fourth highest prevalence of asthma worldwide. One in eight of population have asthma, 20% of these do not have their symptoms controlled.

The prevalence is increasing.
 Asthma is consistently in the top 20 diagnoses for admission to hospital
. Irish adults with asthma lose on average 12 days from work per annum.

Irish children with asthma lose on average 10 days from school per annum.
 Almost 80 people die in Ireland every year from asthma – this is more than one death per week. 30% of these are under 40 years of age.

Continued below…


What is Asthma?

Asthma is a condition that affects the airways – the small tubes that carry air in and out of the lungs. In asthma, the airways become over-sensitive and react to things that would normally cause no problem, such as cold air or dust.

Muscle around the wall of the airway tightens up, making it narrow. The lining of the airways gets swollen (just like your nose during a cold) and sticky mucus is produced, clogging up the breathing passages.

What causes Asthma?

No one knows exactly what causes asthma. What we do know is:

• It can start at any time of life, although it most often begins in childhood.

• Sometimes it affects several family members e.g. if you have parents or brothers and sisters with asthma or allergy (e.g. Eczema or hay fever) you are more likely to have it yourself.

• Conditions like hay-fever, eczema, or hives, which are usually the result of allergy, may occur along with Asthma.

• Adult onset asthma may develop after a viral infection.

• Many aspects of modern lifestyles such as changes in housing, diet and a more hygienic environment may have contributed to the rise in asthma over the last few decades.

Asthma Symptoms

The usual symptoms are:

• Difficulty in breathing/Shortness of breath.

• A tight feeling in the chest.

• Wheezing (a whistling noise in the chest).

• Cough, a nocturnal cough may be the only symptom

Simple breathing tests may be performed by your doctor to confirm the diagnosis.

Management of Asthma

The goals of asthma treatment are to give asthma sufferers good quality of life, minimize risks eg, hospitalizations, and minimize side effects from asthma medications.

There are two main kinds of asthma treatment; relievers and preventers. Relievers are taken to relieve asthma symptoms, they relax the muscles surrounding the narrowed airways making it easier to breathe again.

Preventers help to control the swelling and inflammation in the airways and help to reduce the sensitivity of the airways to asthma triggers.

The stepwise approach to treatment is based on increasing medications until asthma is controlled, and decreasing medications when possible to minimize side effects.

Well-controlled asthma is characterized by daytime symptoms no more than twice per week and nighttime symptoms no more than twice per month.

Reliever inhalers should be needed less often than twice weekly, and there should be no interference with normal activity. Oral steroid courses and/or urgent care visits should be needed no more than once per year.

See www.asthmasociety.ie for more information

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