Click below to watch ‘What is Asthma’ video
(American Lung Association)

Asthma affects people of all ages, but usually starts during childhood.  It affects around a quarter of all children and up to15% of adults in Malaysia but only 40% of them feel that their asthma is well-controlled.

What is asthma?

Asthma is a lung disease affecting the airways making them narrow and difficulty to breath.  The narrowing is caused by the following factors:

  • Inflammation of the airway walls causing it to be red and swollen
  • Tightening of the small muscles around the airways which go into spasm
  • Mucous (phlegm) which is sticky lung secretions, blocks the already narrowed airways

Image Source: AsthmaMalaysia.org

What are the causes of asthma?

Although the exact cause is not known, genetic and environmental factors are responsible

  • Most asthma patients have allergies
  • There a family history of asthma, eczema or atopy (allergic tendency)
  • There is a history of lung infections during childhood

There many trigger factors which make asthma worse and these include:

  • Allergens from dust, animal fur, mould and pollens from grasses and flowers

Image Source: Freepik

  • Irritants such as cigarette smoke, air pollution (haze), chemicals (such as hairspray or paint)
  • Dust or dust mites
  • Certain preservatives in foods or drinks
  • Change in temperature (especially cold)
  • Physical activity such as sports
  • Stress or anxiety
  • Any upper respiratory infections such as cold or flu
  • Lack of sleep

What are the symptoms of asthma?

Airway narrowing results in a reduction of the amount of air that can be breathed in thus causing breathlessness and wheezing (whistling sound when they breathe) in the patient.  In addition, there is tightness in the chest and coughing which is usually occurs at night or early in the morning.  When the coughing is bad, the sleep is interrupted.

Image Source: Medical News Today

Usually asthma symptoms are mild and resolve after minimal treatment with medication. However, symptoms can continue to get worse in some patients or result in a flareup (or exacerbation) known as an asthma attack.  It is very important to know what to do during an asthma attack because it can be fatal if left untreated (see below).

How is asthma diagnosed?
a) Chest X-ray to make sure there is no other issues with the lung such as infection

Image Source: University Hospital of South Manchester NHS Foundation Trust

b) Lung functions tests to check how your lung efficiency. These include

  • Spirometry which measures how much air you can breathe in and out
  • Peak Flow Meter measures your ability to push air out the lungs in a single puff

c) Allergen skin patch test is optional but it helps to identify what can exacerbate your asthma
d) Sometimes, the doctor may use a short trial of medication to confirm the diagnosis

References: American Lung Association, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, Asthma Malaysia

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