My Days of Living in Tension with Asthma are Over!
This is a recent picture, taken when we went on a family picnic. We climbed up this big hill and I didn't cough or get breathless even once.
Here's my story about how my doctor helped me with a very simple kind of treatment. I hope it will help you to realise that you too can easily win against asthma.
Some people like to quickly understand the basics of a subject first, and then go into details later (like me!)
So the first part, called "Basic Facts About Beating Asthma", is just the minimum stuff you should know about asthma.
After reading that, if you want to know more details, go to the second part called "Your Asthma Questions Answered".
(Don't ignore it in the hope that it's not asthma!)
Today I can smile because I know how simple it is to win against asthma. I just need to take my medicine every day and it keeps me fine.
But I must confess that for a long time, I avoided going to the doctor (just like you?)
I used to keep getting a cough. But nowadays one sees so many people coughing because of pollution or because they've got flu. So I thought it was because of that.
I must have tried every kind of cough syrup and even some antibiotic tablets. I would just go to the chemist and buy them on my own. (I'm sure you do that too!)
One day when I was climbing up the stairs to my house, I began coughing badly. My chest was feeling tight, I couldn't breathe properly, and the most frightening thing was that there was a strange whistling sound coming from my chest. Somehow I got over it that time. But some time later it happened again and then I really got worried and I finally went to my family doctor.
I remember telling the doctor, "It's just a cough but it keeps going away and then coming back. Right now it's very bad." The first thing my doctor asked me was what medicines I was taking.
My doctor told me something very logical: if you have taken many cough syrups and even antibiotics and it still doesn't get cured, then it may not be "just a cough".
Frankly, I was hoping that he would say that it was a bad case of ''bronchitis" or something like that. I was very upset when he told me that everything pointed to asthma!
At first I couldn't believe it was asthma, because I thought that asthma makes you feel breathless all the time, and that was not happening to me. But my doctor told me it's not so. He said the symptoms of asthma are different in different people. These symptoms can start at any age. They can completely go away for some time, maybe months or even several years, and then come back.
My doctor used some pictures and models to explain what happens in asthma.
See, this is what our lungs look like.
The things that trouble your lungs and make your asthma get bad are called triggers. Stuff like strong smells, dust and smoke. Naturally, you should try to avoid those things. Specially smoking: if you smoke, please stop, and if you don't smoke, avoid people who do.
In my house, the dusting is done with a damp cloth so that the dust doesn't get around. And when the house is being pest-controlled, I make sure I am out of the house.
Many people who have asthma are so worried about triggers that they put self-restrictions on everything, even food. But my doctor said that I can eat anything I like because my asthma is not affected by any kind of food.
That's the thing about asthma triggers - they are different for different people.
My doctor showed me a really easy way to take my asthma medicine. I just breathe it in with this little device called a Rotahaler. This way of taking medicine is called inhalation. And it takes the medicine straight to the lungs, so it's much faster-acting and safer than taking tablets or syrups.
When my doctor told me that I need to take an asthma medicine every day, first I was upset. But he gave me a good reason why: this medicine is called a Preventer, and if I take it every day it will help to protect my air tubes.
My doctor also said that if something irritates my lungs and I start coughing or can't breathe properly, then I have to take another medicine called a Reliever. Only in that situation, not otherwise.
Still, I wanted to know: Do I really have to take the Preventer regularly even when I am feeling OK? Why can't I just use the Reliever medicine as and when I have a problem?
My doctor explained it very nicely. He said, how do you keep your house safe from thieves? You employ a watchman. But suppose there has been no robbery in your house for quite some time. Then should you remove the watchman? No, because then thieves may enter. In the same way, the Preventer is like a watchman which prevents an asthma attack. And you should ensure that it is "on duty" every day!
The point is, it's better to try to prevent a problem than to tackle it after it happens.
So here's my "Golden Rule" for staying healthy:
Here's a simple way to remember the names of your medicines: write them down here!
My Preventer medicine is
My Reliever medicine is
How Can I be Sure That It Is Really Asthma?
Your doctor will examine you, and may also suggest some medical tests. Don't worry, these tests are simple and painless. The doctor may ask you for details about your symptoms (that's the medical word for what you feel when you are not well), such as:
Do you have problems when doing anything that requires physical exertion?
If physical exertion such as climbing stairs, running or even walking fast makes you get breathless and tired easily, or start coughing, this could be a sign of asthma.
Is your breathing affected by changes in temperature, particularly cold weather?
Do you have breathing trouble if you laugh a lot or when you are emotionally disturbed?
Strong emotions lead to deep and fast breathing, and this can cause problems if you have asthma.
In many people, the tendency to develop asthma is there right from birth. Asthma runs in some families, but many people with asthma have no other family members affected.
Asthma is not infectious. So you did not "catch" asthma from anyone else, and no one else at home or work can get "infected" by it.
Asthma affects the air tubes which carry air in and out of your lungs. The air tubes are swollen and extra-sensitive. So they react badly to anything that irritates. These things are called asthma triggers.
When you come in contact with an asthma trigger, the muscles around the walls of the air tubes tighten, so the air tubes become narrower. Often the air tubes also produce extra sticky mucus. All this makes it difficult for air to go in and out of the air tubes, so you start coughing and get breathless.
You can control asthma very well in two ways:
- Try to identify the things that act as triggers for your asthma and then try to avoid them.
- Make sure you take the right medicines regularly and exactly the way the doctor says, and go for regular check-ups.
There are two main kinds of asthma medicines. They are called Preventers and Relievers, and they work in different ways.
A Preventer protects your air tubes by making them less sensitive to asthma triggers which cause coughing and breathing difficulties. Taking the Preventer regularly is a good habit just like brushing your teeth daily!
A Reliever should be used only when you suffer from coughing and breathing difficulties. It relieves these problems quickly by helping the air tubes to open wider so air can go in and out more easily. Ensure that you always carry the Reliever medicine (even when you go out) in case it is suddenly needed.
The best way to take asthma medicines is by inhalation. This is a way of breathing in the medicine through the mouth, using a small device called an inhaler.
Inhalation therapy is the most accepted way of asthma control worldwide. This is because inhalers have many advantages over tablets and syrups:
With an inhaler, the medicine goes only into the lungs where it is needed. Just like you put ointment on the skin for a skin problem, or eye drops in the eye for an eye problem. Whereas with tablets and syrups, the medicine travels all over the body apart from going to the lungs.
In fact, inhaled asthma medicines are so safe that they are prescribed not just for children but even for infants, pregnant women, and babies and mothers who are breast-feeding.
One Hears of "Permanent Solutions" and "Cures" for Asthma Being Offered by Other Types of Treatment. Do They Work?
You may read about such things, or even receive advice from family and friends. But remember, the best advice comes from your doctor. Before you consider other types of treatment, consult your doctor. It is safer to take medicines which have been scientifically tested and proved effective all over the world, rather than following unproven claims.
Asthma affects women and men's lungs in the same way, but women who have asthma may find that their symptoms get worse at certain times.
For example, some adolescent girls with asthma find that it gets worse around the time they have their first period. After the menstrual cycle becomes established, the asthma also usually settles down. But some women do notice that their asthma is harder to control just before or during their period. Also, some women who are going through menopause may develop asthma for the first time or, if they had asthma when they were younger, it may return.
The reason is that the balance of various hormones (certain natural chemicals produced in the body) changes at the time of your period and during menopause, and this can affect your asthma.
The chances of this happening are low if you are regular with your Preventer medicine and try to avoid coming into contact with asthma triggers. But you should be prepared with these steps:
- Sit upright (do not lie down). Try to stay calm and relaxed. Loosen tight clothing.
- Without delay, take the Reliever medicine in the dosage recommended by your doctor.
- Then wait for 5 minutes. If there is no improvement, take additional doses of the Reliever medicine as advised by your doctor.
- If you still do not get relief, call your doctor immediately. Do not exceed the dose of the Reliever medicine without consulting your doctor.
When You Have Fever, You Can Measure Your Temperature with a Thermometer. Is There Anything Like That for Asthma?
Yes. Your doctor may use a simple instrument called a Peak Flow Meter which measures how well you can blow air out of your lungs. Your doctor may also ask you to take a breathing test with a more advanced electronic instrument called a Spirometer. After starting treatment - and if you take your medicines regularly - you will feel encouraged to find that your breathing test results have improved.