Now you know: What is asthma and what's it like for people living with it?

By YP cadet Thomas Gomersall

Asthma is a common disease that affects more than 300 million people globally. Here are some useful tips on how to control the condition and lead a fruitful life

By YP cadet Thomas Gomersall |

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If you don’t have asthma, then you might take for granted your ability to take a deep breath. People who suffer from asthma do not always have that luxury – and sometimes they will need to use a medical device called an inhaler to help them breathe easy.

Asthma is one of the most common diseases, affecting more than 330,000 Hongkongers in 2011 and around 300 million people globally. But what exactly is asthma? What causes it? And if you have it, what can
you do about it?

What is asthma?

Asthma is a chronic (long-lasting) disease in which the airways leading to the lungs become swollen and narrower, making breathing difficult. It can also lead to cells in these airways producing more mucus, the sticky, slimy stuff that lines your lungs, throat, mouth, and nose, which makes the problem worse.

It can develop at any age, but normally starts during childhood, and is one of the most common chronic diseases among children.

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What are the symptoms?

Symptoms include breathlessness, feeling like your chest is too tight, wheezing, and coughing. The discomfort caused by these symptoms can also lead to sleeping problems.

What causes asthma? Can you catch it?

Asthma is not contagious: you cannot catch it from another person. The cause of asthma is not fully known yet, but genetics may play a role. People who have family members with allergies or asthma are more likely to develop the same condition. People with allergies or who develop chest infections as babies or when young, are more at risk, as are smokers or overweight people.

What triggers an asthma attack can differ from person to person. For people with allergies, the symptoms can be triggered by breathing in pollen, dust mites, or mould. For some, smoke, fumes, or even a strong smell can set it off. Too much exercise, particularly in cold, dry air, can also trigger the symptoms.

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What is an asthma attack?

During an asthma attack, your airways become swollen and inflamed and you may have trouble breathing. If an asthma attack is mild, the symptoms can usually be controlled by using an inhaler. If this does not help, however, you should see your doctor urgently or go to the hospital emergency room.

Is there a cure?

There is currently no cure for asthma. But there are ways to control it, even to the point where you hardly notice it. The simplest solution is to avoid things that may trigger the symptoms. However, if exercise causes asthma attacks, ask your doctor about a proper course of treatment. This is because being active is just as important to your health as controlling your asthma.

To keep track of the severity, you should use a peak flow meter, a small device that measures how well air moves out of your lungs. Take a deep breath in and blow as fast and as hard as you can into the plastic tube. By keeping a record of the results, you can see if your symptoms are under control or worsening.

If you start developing asthma-like symptoms, you should get help as soon as possible to prevent serious, or even permanent damage, to your respiratory system. By taking these measures, you should be able to lead a normal life without worrying too much about your health.

Edited by M. J. Premaratne