Asthma is a common condition that affects your airways by narrowing the small air passages in the lungs. The narrowing happens when the air passages become swollen and inflamed. This causes excess mucus to be produced, and the muscles around the air passages also become tighter. These changes can make it harder for air to get in and out. This can cause a wheeze, cough and problems with breathing.
So, what are the symptoms of asthma?
Everyone can have different asthma symptoms. Some of the most common symptoms are:
- Wheezing a high-pitched whistling sound coming from the chest while breathing
- Breathing problems you might be out of breath at rest, feel tightness in the chest, have to work hard to breathe, or be unable to complete full sentences due to feeling out of breath. You might be lacking energy.
- Coughing – this usually happens at night or early hours of the morning; when the weather is cool; and during exercise.
Cough alone does not mean asthma. Asthma symptoms can be triggered by different things for different people.
Common triggers can include;
- cold, flu and other respiratory infections
- allergy related triggers such as pollens, dust mites, mould, pets
- weather cold air, changes in temperature, thunderstorms
- environmental triggers – such as cigarette smoke, chemicals, bushfire smoke, perfumes
So, what is an asthma flare and when should I see the doctor?
An asthma flare is when your asthma symptoms begin or get worse compared to usual. These symptoms won’t go away by themselves and need treatment. Asthma can be unpredictable and affects everyone differently. That’s why it’s important to know what to do and when.
When your asthma is well controlled, it means having all of the following;
- No regular wheeze, cough, or chest tightness at night-time, on waking or during the day
- Using your reliever medication less than three times a week (except if it is used before exercise)
- Being able to take part in normal activities without a wheeze, cough or chest tightness
- No days off school or work due to asthma
If your asthma is controlled, it is still important to take your preventor every day.
Signs that your asthma might be getting worse include;
- Waking from sleep due to coughing, wheezing or chest tightness
- Using reliever puffer more than 3 times a week (not including before exercise)
- The first sign of worsening asthma symptoms associated with a cold or other viral infection
If any of these occur, we recommend you see your GP within 1-2 days.
Your asthma might be severe if you;
- Need your reliever puffer every 3 hours or more often
- Have increasing wheezing, coughing or chest tightness
- Have difficulty with normal activity
- Waking each night and most mornings with wheezing, coughing or chest tightness
- Feel that your asthma is out of control
If you are experiencing these symptoms, we recommend you see a GP on the day.
If you are experiencing any of the following symptoms;
- Extreme shortness of breath, where you are unable to breathe in or out fully
- Rapid breathing
- Trouble talking and can’t speak in full sentences
- Feeling confused or agitated
- No improvement for using your reliever medication or returns quickly
- Working hard to breathe this might look like deep sucking movements at your throat or chest as you try to breathe.
You need go to the Emergency Department. Get someone to call 000 and advise you are having a severe asthma attack. Do not drive your self or a loved one.
If you don’t have asthma and you see someone having any of the signs, you can help provide asthma first aid.
You can follow the simple 4x4x4 asthma first aid steps:
- Sit them comfortably upright and remain calm.
- Shake a blue reliever puffer and give four separate puffs through a spacer, if available. Give one puff at a time and ask them to take four breaths from the spacer after each puff.
- Wait four minutes. If there is no improvement in their asthma you can repeat.
- If there is still no improvement, call an ambulance immediately. State that they are having an asthma emergency. Continuously repeat these steps while waiting for the ambulance.
So, how can I manage my asthma?
See your GP for an asthma GP management plan to provide education, review your asthma and help prepare an asthma action plan.
Why should I have a care plan?
Asthma is a chronic condition and for good control it is important that you;
- understand what triggers your asthma (this can be different for everyone)
- understand and use your asthma medications correctly, even when you feel well
- have an asthma action plan, so you know exactly what to do when symptoms happen
- see your GP regularly to monitor your asthma control and continue to provide education and support
- make sure you are up to date with any vaccinations particularly influenza, COVID-19, whooping cough, and pneumonia.