One in ten people are asthmatics, and three people die of asthma in the UK every day, although many cases of asthma are not as severe. These numbers look like 300 million patients and 250,000 deaths a year around the world. While the growingly poorer air and environment quality is causing an increase in the severity of asthma symptoms, asthmatics are also part of the high-risk group for Coronavirus. Especially in spring months in which pollens trigger allergies, asthmatics are even more vulnerable.
What is Asthma?
Asthma is a common chronic lung disease that causes occasional breathing difficulties.
It can be seen in people of all ages but often starts in childhood, although it can also develop for the first time in adults.
Asthma affects the airways, bronchi and bronchioles. These have an inner lining called mucosa which is surrounded by smooth muscles. These are chronically inflamed for the patients with asthma which makes them hyper-responsive to specific triggers. When exposed to these triggers, the smooth muscles contract and become narrow and the lining becomes more swollen and produces more mucus which blocks the narrowed airways which makes it harder to breathe. This is called an asthma attack. It starts with a cough and/or a wheeze. As the breathing gets faster and shallower, the sufferer feels shortness of breath and a tightness in the chest. Although the sufferer feels like they can’t breathe in, actually hyperventilation happens which means they can’t exhale and the air gets trapped in the lungs. In such a case, the body works harder and it becomes harder for the other organs to receive the needed oxygen. If it’s not treated in time, it could lead to death. The inhalers relieve the airways, although in severe cases, it may not be enough, which leads to hospitalisation.
The definite cause of asthma is not known. There’s currently no cure, but there are treatments that can help keep the symptoms under control to minimise its impact on your life.
Although the cause of the disease is not known, there are some factors we are aware of that could trigger an asthma attack. These include:
- Air quality
- Chest infections
- Common cold and flu
- Cigarette smoke
- Stress and anxiety
- Animals and pets
- Dust mites
- Mould and damp
Asthma and Coronavirus
While some people report a decrease in their symptoms because of the improved air quality during the lockdown, many have reported an increase, as the stress and anxiety increase. However, the timing of this outbreak being in spring in which there are pollens in the air increases the vulnerability of the patients, in a time that hospitals are under pressure, as well as contagious.
Asthmatics are in the high-risk group for Coronavirus, as it affects airways and lungs. Another risk coronavirus carries for asthma patients is related to the medication. Albuterol, which is the quick-relief inhalers, is used for the treatment of the breathing difficulty that comes with the Coronavirus which means a risk of inhaler shortage. Some asthmatic in the USA talk about their concerns, as some parts of the USA limits the number of inhalers that can be bought.
Although there isn’t much anyone can do, Asthma UK advises the following for asthma patients to do during the pandemic:
- Don’t leave the house unless absolutely necessary
- Stay indoors
- Keep taking your preventer inhaler daily as prescribed (now important more than ever)
- Carry your reliever inhaler with you at all times
- Use an asthma action plan (https://www.asthma.org.uk/advice/manage-your-asthma/action-plan/)
- Start a peak flow diary
- Quit smoking, if you do
- Asthma is psychological
No, asthma is a chronic pulmonary disease, although psychological factors can be triggers.
- Everyone with asthma experiences the same symptoms
While the triggers, intensity and frequency of an attack change both person to person and episode to episode, different people can also show different symptoms.
- People with asthma shouldn’t exercise
Although exercise is one of the triggers, regular light exercise appears to improve the condition, as it also improves physical health.
- Asthma is not deadly
It is not very common, especially if the patient carries his/her inhaler at all times, but it happens more than many thinks. As stated above, around 250,000 people around the world die from an asthma attack every year.
- Everyone with asthma will die
Asthma attacks are dangerous, but if kept under control with preventive treatment and carrying inhalers at all times, it is not inevitably fatal.
- You can outgrow asthma
Although the symptoms can differ over time, and it is common for children up to the age of 11 to outgrow symptoms with treatment, there is no particular cure for the disease. Even when outgrown the symptoms, there is always the risk of it resurfacing.
- TV and literature representations are true
This is a no, no. Many fictional representations of asthma are that, fictional. Asthma is not romantic, cannot be cured by love, although high morale is effective in the reduction of the attacks. Inhalers are still medication; you can’t just use them all the time. Most of the time the attacks don’t happen as frequent as presented and they need to be triggered by the symptoms. It is very common for the fictional representations to either underestimate or overestimate the conditions. This also applies to many other health and mental conditions.
Asthma Awareness Month
Every year the first Tuesday of May is Asthma Awareness Day, while the whole month is accepted to be Asthma Awareness Month since 1998. It is an event organised by GINA (The Global Initiative of Asthma) that many local non-profit Asthma organisations join and arrange their own local events around the world. Every year there is a theme for the events, while these years being, ‘Enough Asthma Deaths’ and ‘Hold Your Breath’. While the in-person events are cancelled this year, some online events are happening and you can always share information on the topic for the awareness, as I do every year myself.
Why Is It Important to Raise Awareness About Asthma?
Asthma is a common problem with not enough attention given. Asthma still doesn’t have a specific cure, and there neither are enough researches on it, as there isn’t enough funding, nor an attempt to improve the conditions for the sufferers. Also, as many people are not educated on it, even some people with the disease don’t seek treatment or know how to manage their symptoms.
How can you help?
As mentioned before, there is little funding for the researches considering a cure for asthma. Also, asthma is common among people with low life quality which means they also can’t afford neither a treatment nor the medication. You can find your local non-profit asthma organisation for a donation.
- Learn the symptoms of an attack and how to help
These are important to know by the patient, but the more people know about it, the more asthma deaths could be prevented. Symptoms are as mentioned above and if you realise someone’s having an attack here’s what you should do:
- Sit the person up straight and try to calm them down
- Ask them for their inhaler and have them take one puff every 30-60 seconds up to 10 puffs if the first few didn’t work.
- If they don’t feel better after 10 puffs, call an ambulance.
- Repeat step 2 after 15 minutes, while waiting for the ambulance.
- Treatment options
As it is believed that asthma cannot be cured, or is not fatal, many people don’t seek treatment. However, the treatment could keep the symptoms under control and decrease the severity of the symptoms. Treatment is especially important in children, as they can outgrow the symptoms, though there is no guarantee of permanency. If you have asthma or know someone who has, you can encourage them to seek treatment and make sure they take their daily medication.
- Decrease your carbon footprint
This is not only something you should do in favour of asthma patients but for the sake of our planet. However, this would obviously help for the decrease in asthma deaths, maybe even the occurrence, in great deal. You can do this by recycling, driving less, littering less, using eco-friendly products, using reusable material, switching to reusable energy sourcing and minimising the use of fossil fuels (coal, oil (petroleum), natural gas). Those who can contribute the most here are the big business owners, as they are responsible by most of the air and water pollution through their production.
- Educate yourself and people around you
This isn’t only important for the prevention of asthma but also for the social aspects. I personally have been bullied on my asthma when I was a child, as not many people knew about asthma. Some children thought I was acting or lying and put my asthma on a test, which triggered my attacks. The local myths can also cause distress for the patient, especially children, which, again, triggers attacks. I had friends in primary school who would hear from their parents that asthma is deadly and would come to tell me that I would die. Even my doctor was relentless and would talk about the treatment not working while I was in the room. As a child, I imagined so many times that I would die from not being able to breathe. Psychology is very important for both decreasing the frequency of attacks and for the functioning of the treatment. After I changed my school and my doctor, my treatment became more responsive and I outgrew my symptoms by the age of 11, after receiving treatment for 7-8 years.
You can check out my short story inspired by my experience here: http://featherpenblog.com/short-story:-narrow-pathways