Asthma

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What is asthma?

Asthma is a common disease of the lower airways that affects approximately 10 to 15 per cent of Canadian children and five per cent of adults. Although at this time there is no cure for asthma, today there are better treatments available to control asthma attacks and symptoms. Asthma is a serious disease that can severely affect one’s health and well-being, but with proper management, people with asthma can enjoy a good quality of life and a range of activities.

Asthma can develop at any age but usually begins in the first few years of life. Symptoms and severity of asthma varies from person to person, from mild to moderate to severe. The most common symptoms are:

  • difficulty breathing
  • shortness of breath
  • coughing
  • wheezing
  • chest tightness
  • turning very pale

What causes asthma?

The exact cause of asthma is unclear, but there are certain factors that seem to increase the risk of developing asthma. They include:

  • hereditary or genetic factors
  • chest infections early in life
  • exposure early in life, to house dust, animals (especially cats) and cigarette smoke

What are the common triggers of asthma?

There are two particular groups of asthma triggers. Some cause inflammation in the airways or make existing inflammation worse. Other triggers cause narrowing or constriction of the airways due to the muscles around the airways tightening.

Asthma reactions may occur daily, weekly and/or seasonally. Triggers vary widely among people with asthma and can change over time. One person may be sensitive to pollens while another reacts to changes in temperature. It is important to identify and avoid specific triggers. Common triggers include:

  • Colds/viruses or other respiratory infections
  • Dust/dust Mites
  • Moulds
  • Emotions/stress/excitement
  • Smoke
  • Animals
  • Exercise
  • Pollens
  • Weather
  • Strong odors or fumes
  • Change in temperature
  • Chalk dust
  • Food
  • Carpeting
  • Other irritants

How do I help a child having a serious asthma attack?

As soon as you see a child start to have an asthma attack, take action. Have the child sit down upright and encourage the child to breathe slowly and stay calm. Follow the school medical plan and if the child has an bronchodilator inhaler which relieves asthma symptoms quickly, give the medication. Call 9-1-1 if the attack does not respond to the medication and call their parents. Watch the child closely and don't leave them alone.

Call 9-1-1 if the child:

  • has trouble walking or talking.
  • stops playing and can't start activity again within a few moments or after taking medication.
  • has lips or fingertips that turn grey or blue.
  • has a hard time breathing.
  • pulls their chest and/or neck in when trying to breathe.
  • is hunched over.

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