Ochre Health’s guide to managing asthma this spring

 

As the warmth of spring sets in, Ochre Health warns asthmatics and hay fever sufferers to be on high alert, as the unseasonably dry weather across large areas of rural and regional Australia may trigger an attack.

What is asthma?

Asthma is a chronic inflammatory disease of the lungs. During an asthma attack, a person’s muscles around their airways become tight and narrow, swelling up with an increased amount of mucus that they struggle to breathe.[1] Asthma usually develops in childhood, and is one of the most chronic diseases among Australian children.[2]

What causes asthma?

Although the cause of asthma is unknown, it usually develops in people that have experienced a severe respiratory viral infection, or “viral bronchiolitis”, in early life. In already susceptible individuals, respiratory viruses contribute to the onset, progression, and exacerbation of asthma.

What are the common triggers of an asthma attack?

Asthma can flare-up as a response to different triggers in different people, so it’s important to know what allergens – house dust-mites, smoke, pollen, mould, or pets – trigger your asthma, and how to limit your exposure.

Some common triggers include:

  • Colds, flu and other respiratory infections
  • Smoke from cigarettes, back-burning, and bushfires
  • Weather, such as cold air, changes in temperature, and thunderstorms
  • Exercise, particularly if physical activity is undertaken in a challenging environment, such as in cold, dry weather or where there are high levels of allergens, pollution, or irritant gases
  • Allergy related triggers, such as house dust mites, pollen, mould, and pet allergens from cats or horses

What is ‘thunderstorm asthma’?

Thunderstorm asthma is a unique form of asthma that is triggered by an uncommon combination of high pollen (usually during late spring to early summer) and a certain kind of thunderstorm. Anyone can be affected, even if you don’t have a history of asthma.[3]

The epidemic thunderstorm asthma event that hit Melbourne in November 2016, which was caused by a potent mix of airborne grass pollen, weather conditions and rain, left 10 people killed and saw many others suffer from acute asthma flare-ups.

Why do I need to take extra precautions with my asthma, leading into spring?

In spring, the presence of dust storms and higher pollen counts can trigger hay-fever related allergies, which may mimic or exacerbate asthma. The combination of drought affecting large areas of rural and regional Australia, and the early arrival of the bushfire season, are other factors that could lead to a spike in asthma flare-ups this spring.

What are the four steps of Asthma First Aid?

As most people know of someone affected by asthma, it’s important that not only asthmatics, but their friends, family and work colleagues, learn the four steps of Asthma First Aid:

  1. Sit the person comfortably upright
  2. Give them four puffs of reliever
  3. Wait four minutes
  4. If the person is still unable to breathe normally, call an ambulance immediately whilst giving them the reliever every four minutes

If the person is experiencing severe shortness of breath, is getting worse quickly, or their lips are turning blue, call the ambulance immediately and give their reliever every four minutes.

Living with asthma: is there a cure?

While there is no cure for asthma, it can be controlled with effective clinical care, appropriate medications, and by following a written Asthma Action Plan. Everyone’s focus should be on PREVENTION and taking quick action to reduce their risks, including:

  • Reducing outdoor activities where pollution and pollen levels are high
  • Exercising in a place that is warm and humid, and avoiding cold, dry air if possible
  • Asking your GP, nurse or pharmacist exactly how to use your inhaler correctly
  • Using a space with a puffer to get more medicine into your lungs so it works better
  • Maintaining regular health checks with your GP
  • Following an up-to-date Asthma Action Plan

 

Be prepared this spring. Go to www.ochrehealth.com.au and book an appointment with your GP for an updated Asthma Action Plan.

[1] Asthma Australia, ‘What is asthma?’, https://www.asthmaaustralia.org.au/sa/about-asthma/what-is-asthma.

[2] Asthma Australia, ‘About Asthma: Statistics’, https://www.asthmaaustralia.org.au/sa/about-asthma/what-is-asthma-/statistics.

[3] National Asthma Council of Australia, ‘Thunderstorm Asthma,’ Feb 2017, https://www.asthmaaustralia.org.au/sa/about-asthma/resources/onair/2017/feb/thunderstorm-asthma.

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