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July 14, 2008 | by  | in Opinion |
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Asthma

Asthma is a common health condition in New Zealand. Asthma can be serious and potentially life threatening. The actual cause of this respiratory disease is uncertain. What is known is that people who have asthma have sensitive airways in their lungs, which react to ‘environmental triggers’ that do not affect other people. These triggers cause their airways to tighten, swell up and produce mucous. These reactions cause the airways to narrow and this is the reason that the typical symptoms of asthma include coughing, wheezing, chest tightness and shortness of breath. Over time people who have asthma learn to identify their triggers and try to avoid or lessen their exposure to them. Common triggers include cigarette smoke, colds and the flu, perfume, cats, weather changes, dust mites, strong emotions, physical activity and some medications.

Asthma has the potential to control people’s lives by restricting their activity, waking them at night, increasing the number of visits they need to make to their medical centre or to the emergency department and occasionally making them critically ill. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way. By the avoidance of triggers, the use of asthma medication (a preventer and when necessary a reliever) and regular contact with your health care team you will be able to control your asthma and become symptom free most of the time. Medications are prescribed to help control the symptoms of asthma because at this stage it is not possible to provide a cure.

Preventers include Flixotide, Beclazone and Pulmicort. These inhalers help to reduce the inflammation in the airways. This is very important because if you are able to reduce the amount of inflammation it will help to lessen the risk of an asthma attack. When first taking or restarting a preventer it will typically take from two weeks to three months for a person to notice a difference. Preventer medication needs to be taken everyday because the airways of people who have asthma are inflamed all of the time not just when they experience symptoms. Preventer medication is not to be used in an emergency.

Relievers include Salamol, Ventolin and Bricanyl. These inhalers are also called short acting relievers and they help to relax a person’s airways making it easier for them to breathe. Relievers are the types of inhalers that a person with asthma always needs to have with them because these inhalers are necessary to treat an asthma attack.

Symptom controllers AKA long acting relievers including Foradil, Oxis and Serevent. These inhalers help to relax the airways for twelve hours at a time. This type of inhaler is for people who despite the regular use of a preventer still wake at night or have to limit their physical activity because of asthma. Symptom controllers should not be used for emergency use because they take too long to work. Combination inhalers including Seretide and Symbicort contain a preventer and a symptom controller, they need to be taken every day usually morning and night and they should not be used in an emergency situation.

It is recommended that you review your asthma with a doctor at least twice a year, more frequently if you still experience symptoms despite using your asthma medication as prescribed. The doctor will also be able to work with you to produce an asthma management plan. Having a management plan will enable you to work out ways to reduce the frequency and severity of symptoms you may experience and will provide you with information about how to control your asthma if your symptoms worsen.

A key message for students who have asthma is if you need to use your blue reliever inhaler more than three-four times a week, or if symptoms of asthma are causing you to wake during the night, or limiting the things you need to do it means that your asthma is not under control. The team at the SHS are happy to work with you to help you control your asthma and reduce the impact asthma may have on your lifestyle.

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About the Author ()

Salient is a magazine. Salient is a website. Salient is an institution founded in 1938 to cater to the whim and fancy of students of Victoria University. We are partly funded by VUWSA and partly by gold bullion that was discovered under a pile of old Salients from the 40's. Salient welcomes your participation in debate on all the issues that we present to you, and if you're a student of Victoria University then you're more than welcome to drop in and have tea and scones with the contributors of this little rag in our little hideaway that overlooks Wellington.

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