If you suffer from asthma, here’s an action plan to manage it

Asthma is a chronic respiratory condition that can occur at any age but is most common in childhood. About 5 per cent of adults and 20 per cent of children in Singapore suffer from asthma, which is believed to be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors.

A family history of asthma and allergies, and exposure to infections or irritants in infancy may increase a child’s risk of developing asthma. However, childhood asthma doesn’t always extend into adulthood.

“Asthma goes into remission in some children around puberty, but it often comes back. Sometimes, it returns when young adults start drinking alcohol,” says Dr Aza Taha, Associate Consultant, Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, Changi General Hospital.

Symptoms of asthma

In asthma, inflammation causes the airways to narrow and get clogged with thick mucus causing an attack. Common asthma symptoms include:

  • Difficulty breathing

  • Wheezing/noisy breathing

  • Recurrent cough, particularly at night

  • Tightness in the chest

Symptoms vary from individual to individual based on the severity of the condition.

“Every asthmatic person has different triggers that worsens their asthma symptoms or bring on an attack. It would be ideal to identify the specific triggers and avoid them. Much of asthma treatment is grounded on prevention,” says Dr Taha.

10 common triggers for asthma attacks:

  • Dust, house dust mites

  • Pollen

  • Mould

  • Tobacco smoke

  • Air pollutants

  • Animal dander – fur/skin of dogs and cats

  • Pests/insects

  • Preserved food

  • Physical exertion

  • Mental stress

Managing asthma with an action plan

Most asthma sufferers can lead a normal and active lifestyle, provided they properly treat and manage their condition. An asthma action or management plan can help to better control the condition.

This written plan, which you develop with your doctor, consists of a personalised set of instructions such as:

  • What medication to take and when to take it

  • When to see your doctor

  • What to do if your asthma symptoms worsen

  • How to identify an asthma emergency and what to do (call 995).

Asthma management also involves ensuring that you have your medications, particularly your inhaler and other emergency drugs, with you at all times since an attack can occur suddenly.

“Severe asthma attacks can cause oxygen levels to drop and even your heart to stop beating. In worst cases, it may even lead to death,” says Dr Taha.

Asthma sufferers also need to visit their doctor for regular check-ups and take the prescribed maintenance medication to control their condition.

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