Are you among the thousands of Canadians who have to deal with asthma symptoms? Don't be alarmed! Asthma can be controlled.
Asthma, a brief overview
Asthma is a chronic respiratory disease that affects the bronchi, the small tubes that bring air to the lungs. Typical effects are as follows:
- swelling of the bronchi lining (inflammation)
- production of mucus inside the bronchi, and
- spasms and contractions of the small muscles surrounding the bronchi
These changes lead to the constriction (narrowing) of the airways, making air circulation more difficult. The more significant the inflammation of the bronchi, the more the airways tend to constrict and narrow. A person suffering from uncontrolled asthma typically finds it difficult to breathe and often has a cough.
A few basic principles
Asthma control hinges on a few fundamental principles:
- Avoid asthma triggers
- Take the appropriate medications to prevent inflammation, mucus production and airway constriction
- Avoid damage to airways caused by asthma
Medications are generally needed to treat asthma. These medications are divided into two categories:
- controller medications
- reliever or rescue medications
Controller medications help to prevent asthma symptoms and attacks. They are usually taken once or twice a day. The first class of controller medications is cortison-based (corticosteroids). These medications, which are formulated to be administered at a low dose directly into the airways, help to prevent and control inflammation. They usually cause few adverse effects.
The second class of medications is called long-acting bronchodilators. Administered through inhalation, these medications relax the small muscles surrounding the airways, thereby promoting better air flow. Their effect can last up to 12 hours. There are inhalation devices that combine medications from both these classes.
Other classes of controller medications come in tablet form. They also help to reduce inflammation of the bronchi and are taken once a day. The last type of controller treatment is administered by injection. It’s use is reserved for the more serious and refractory cases to the other treatment modalities.
Reliever (or rescue) medications are taken as needed to quickly ease asthma symptoms. They help to relax the muscles that surround the bronchi. Reliever medications, called fast-acting bronchodilators, have the following characteristics:
- they are in an inhaler format
- they are fast-acting (in just a few minutes)
- they can ease mild symptoms
- they can be used before physical activity, and
- they are not useful for long-term control of asthma
Your pharmacist can provide you with information concerning all the important aspects of the medication used to treat asthma.
An action plan
The asthma action plan is a useful reference guide for anyone living with this condition. It contains various information intended to make asthma management easier by taking into account various factors. Among other things, it mentions the changes to be made to the medication you take, depending on the asthma symptoms you experience. Therefore, an action plan helps the person with asthma to act quickly, upon the onset of symptoms. It may also avoid having to make a medical appointment or having to miss work or school.
This essential tool is prepared collaboratively with a doctor. It aims to make people more autonomous and involved in the management of their condition. It is advisable to refer to it often and, above all, to update it regularly to ensure that the information it contains reflects the reality of the person living with asthma.
A question of commitment—and consistency
It is possible to control asthma if it is taken seriously. Making the appropriate lifestyle changes, taking the necessary medication regularly, careful monitoring, and following medical recommendations are hallmarks of success. People who are committed and ready to put in the required effort can lead an active life with very little discomfort. If you live with asthma, it’s up to you to make your respiratory health a priority!
Don’t hesitate to speak to your pharmacist for additional information about asthma and its treatments.