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Asthma needs to be well controlled to stay healthy

Quick relief inhalers act quickly to relax the muscles around the airways during an asthma attack.

ASTHMA is a common chronic disease of the air passages characterised by inflammation and narrowing of the airways, with warning signs that include shortness of breath, coughing and wheezing.

It commonly presents in childhood. Often it is associated with conditions such as eczema and hay fever. Good control of asthma is important. Without proper control some asthma attacks could be life threatening.

The theme of this year’s World Asthma Day, which occurs every year on the second Tuesday of May, is Asthma Education Empowers, emphasising the need to educate people with asthma on how to manage their condition and recognise when to seek medical help.

Risk  factors

No definitive cause of asthma has yet been identified. However, there are known risk factors.

Children of parents with asthma are more likely to suffer from the disease than others. Those who suffer from certain types of allergies that affect the eyes and nose are more likely to develop asthma than others.

However, not everyone who has allergies has asthma and not everyone who has asthma is affected by allergies.

Children born prematurely before 37 weeks have an increased risk of developing asthma later in life. Babies or small children may be at risk of developing asthma later in life if they had certain lung infections at an early age. Some women may develop adult-onset asthma during or after menopause.

Occupational exposure to certain substances also puts people at risk. There are more than 200 workplace substances, including gases, dust participles and chemical fumes and vapours, that  can lead to asthma. This is a common cause of adult-onset asthma.

Poor environment air quality, as a result of  industrial smoke, exhaust fumes or airborne particulate matter may also put some people at risk of asthma.

Obesity is another risk factor. Extra weight around the chest may squeeze the lungs and make it difficult to inhale. Fat tissue produces inflammatory substances that might influence the lungs and give rise to asthma.


Asthma attacks can be triggered by various things. These triggers vary from person to person. They include viral respiratory tract infections such as colds and flu, exercise, gastroesophageal reflux disease, chronic sinusitis, environmental allergens, use of aspirin, beta blockers, tobacco smoke, insects, plants, chemical fumes and obesity.

Asthma can also be triggered by a combination of high grass pollen levels and emotional factors or stress.


Not everyone is affected by asthma in the same way. Common symptoms include wheezing or a whistling noise when breathing, shortness of breath, a tight feeling in the chest and coughing.

These symptoms are often worse at night, in the early morning or during exercise. Symptoms may also be different for children.


There is no single test for asthma. Doctors make the diagnosis of asthma when a person has breathing symptoms typical of asthma that come and go or if there is evidence that sometimes air does not flow in and out of the lungs normally.

A lung function test to see how well your lungs work may be performed using a spirometer, which measures the amount of air you can breathe in and out of your lungs and how hard and fast you can breathe out.

You blow into a tube as forcefully as you can for a few seconds. The spirometer measures the amount of air pushed through the tube, as well as lung capacity and other measurements.

This test works best for most adults and children over six years of age as they are able to do the spirometry test correctly.


Asthma can be well controlled with the appropriate medication in most people. The main types of treatment used to control asthma are inhalers, preventers, combination therapies and add-on medication.

Quick relief inhalers act quickly to relax the muscles around the airways during an asthma attack. Preventers slowly make the airways less sensitive to triggers and reduce inflammation inside the airways. They are taken daily to help keep you well.

Combination therapies are usually preventers that contain two or three different medicines. Add on medication can help manage severe asthma.

Management of asthma

For good asthma management, it is important to see your doctor or professional healthcare provider for regular check-ups and to work together to manage your asthma. You need to understand what triggers your asthma and try to avoid or reduce your exposure to these triggers.

Take your medication as instructed by your doctor even when you feel well. Make sure you are using your inhaler correctly, including using a mask where required. Inhaled medication such as  corticosteroids may be used daily as a long-term control preventative medication to treat the airway inflammation that leads to asthma symptoms.

A quick relief inhaler contains a fast-acting medication to open your airways and help you breathe more easily when you are having an asthma attack. 

Staying healthy

Always take your asthma medication as prescribed. Most people use a daily controller medication while also carrying with them an inhaler for emergencies.

Do not become reliant on your quick relief inhaler to manage your asthma.

If you are using it more than twice a week, this would suggest your asthma is not being well controlled. You should speak to your doctor, who may review your medication.

Create an asthma action plan with your doctor as part of your asthma management routine. Familiarise yourself with the steps to take when having an asthma attack.

If your child has asthma, give copies of the asthma action plan to his or her school and anyone else who regularly looks after your child.

Stay alert and identify what your asthma triggers are and how to avoid them as much as possible. If you have allergic triggers, work with your doctor to manage your allergy symptoms.

If your asthma is not well controlled, it is important to speak to your doctor. Uncontrolled asthma is serious and could lead to a life-threatening asthma attack.

Over time poorly controlled asthma can cause permanent damage to your airways, called airway remodelling, that cannot be reversed. It is, therefore, important to have correct treatment for your asthma to avoid this permanent damage.

However, if your asthma is well controlled you should be able to live a normal and generally healthy life.

  • The information in this article is provided as a public service by the Cimas iGo Wellness programme, which is designed to promote good health. It is provided for general information only and should not be construed as medical advice. Readers should consult their doctor or clinic on any matter related to their health or the treatment of any health problem. — igo@cimas.co.zw or WhatsApp 0772 161 829 or phone 024-2773 0663

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