Health Matters News

Do you have asthma and don’t know it?

Do you regularly experience breathlessness, wheezing, chest tightness and coughing?

You may be one of the many people that have asthma and are undiagnosed, and therefore untreated. This could be restricting your activities for the rest of your life – and cause death in the event of a sudden, severe attack.

World Asthma Awareness Day, organised by the Global Initiative for Asthma (GINA) is on May 7th. With this year’s theme of STOP for Asthma, GINA is calling on health care providers to evaluate Symptoms, Test response to treatment, Observe and Proceed to adjust treatment if necessary.

The World Health Organisation estimates that across the world about 235 million adults and children suffer from asthma. South Africa was ranked 25th in the world for the number of people with asthma, but in fourth place when it comes to deaths in those between 5 and 34.

Asthma is the most common chronic disease in children. Studies have shown that around 20% of children in South Africa suffer from this condition but only about 2% are treated.

Asthma is a lung disease where, during an attack, the lining of the air passages of the lungs swells.  Breathing becomes difficult and the person cannot get enough air into their lungs.

Some people suffer from regular attacks, whereas in others it can happen maybe once a year or less. Attacks also vary in seriousness – sometimes they cause just a little difficulty in breathing for a short while but at other times a visit to the hospital for emergency treatment becomes necessary.

The exact cause of asthma is not known, but attacks are usually triggered by something in the environment.  This could be substances to which the person is allergic – like pollen, dust, certain chemicals, pet hair, tobacco smoke or pollution. In some sufferers, asthma can also be triggered by exercise, cold air, even stress and anger. Symptoms can also get worse over time.

While asthma cannot be cured, once the person is aware that asthma is the reason for their breathing difficulties there is a lot that can be done to prevent attacks and manage them when they do happen. Obviously, the triggers will need to be identified and then avoided as far as possible.

Asthma is treated with two types of medications. The first are medicines that prevent symptoms so that the person can live a full and normal life. The second type of medicine, which the person usually has to carry with them, provides quick relief of the symptoms when the person experiences an attack.

So, if you or anyone in your family regularly experience breathlessness, wheezing, and tightness in the chest, consult a health practitioner about your symptoms. Where someone is having severe difficulty breathing, and it is getting worse, they should be taken to the emergency department of a hospital without delay.

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