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Learn to breathe easier by managing symptoms of Asthma

MOST people have little trouble climbing a flight of stairs or taking a brisk walk, but these simple activities can be tough for someone with asthma.

Asthma is a condition, in which your airways narrow, swell and produce extra mucus making breathing difficult and trigger coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath. For some people, asthma is a minor nuisance but for others, it can be a major problem that interferes with their daily activities and may lead to a life-threatening asthma attack.

Asthma is a common, long-lasting disease that affects the lungs. It can begin in childhood or adulthood and without proper care, it can become serious or even deadly.

Therefore, people with asthma need to learn on how to manage the disease so they can have few symptoms or none at all. Note that asthma is one of the most common causes of chronic (long-term) illness in children and some symptoms appear more often in children than in adults. 

Children have smaller airways, so if they have asthma, they tend to wheeze more often, particularly during the night.

Asthma symptoms vary from person to person. For instance you may have infrequent asthma attacks, have symptoms only at certain times such as when exercising or have symptoms all the time. Major symptoms of asthma include wheezing (a whistling sound when breathing), shortness of breath, coughing that’s worse at night and early morning, and chest tightness.

These symptoms arise from reactions that narrow the airways, the tubes that carry air into and out of your lungs. When symptoms flare up, it’s called an asthma attack.

It isn't clear why some people get asthma and others don't, but it's probably due to a combination of environmental and genetic (inherited) factors.

Exposure to various irritants and substances that trigger allergies (allergens) can trigger signs and symptoms of asthma. Asthma triggers are different from person to person and can include cigarette smoke, air pollution, mold, house dust mites, and furry animal dander.

Other triggers include weather changes, exercise, stress, and respiratory infections like common colds. Having a parent, brother, or sister who has the disease (generic disposition) also gives more chances of somebody to be affected by the disease at any age.

Asthma being a chronic disease; its treatment goes on for a very long time. Some people have to stay on treatment for the rest of their lives, adding that the best way to improve one’s condition is learning what should be done to live with the disease.

A number of risk factors thought to increase chances of developing asthma include: having a blood relative (such as a parent or sibling) with asthma, having another allergic condition, such as atopic dermatitis or allergic rhinitis (hay fever), being overweight, being a smoker, exposure to secondhand smoke, exposure to exhaust fumes or other types of pollution, exposure to occupational triggers, such as chemicals used in farming, hairdressing and manufacturing among others.

Tips for living with your condition and preventing the asthma attacks include; Taking control of your treatment as it makes you feel more in control of your life in general, Staying current with your vaccinations as they can prevent flu and pneumonia from triggering asthma flare-ups, Identifying and avoiding asthma triggers, Monitoring your breathing to recognize warning signs of an impending attack, Identify and treat attacks early, Take your medication as prescribed and  Pay close attention to increasing use of quick-relief inhaler because if you find yourself relying on your quick-relief inhaler, it’s an indication that your asthma isn't under control.

Severe asthma attacks can be life-threatening therefore work with your healthcare provider to determine what to do when your signs and symptoms worsen and when you need emergency treatment.

Note that the common signs of an asthma emergency include: Rapid shortness of breath or wheezing, unnoticeable improvement even after using a quick-relief inhaler, and shortness of breath when you are doing minimal physical activity.

There’s no specific diet recommended for asthma, but eating fresh, nutritious foods may improve your overall health as well as your asthma symptoms. Eating a balanced diet and maintaining a healthy weight may make it easier to manage your condition.

Some foodstuffs and nutrients that may help support lung function include; Vitamin D-rich foods, such as milk and eggs, Beta carotene-rich vegetables, such as carrots and leafy greens and magnesium-rich foods, such as spinach and pumpkin seeds.

On the other hand, avoid foods that trigger asthma symptoms like; Sulfites, which are found in wine and dried fruits, foods that can cause gas, including beans, cabbage, and onions and Artificial ingredients, such as chemical preservatives or other flavorings. However, it’s best to consult your healthcare provider before you start eliminating certain foods from your diet.

At the moment there’s no cure for asthma, however, there are many effective treatments that can decrease asthma symptoms. Lifestyle changes and medications can also improve your quality of life. The key is to become educated since the more you know, the better your lung function will be and the better you’ll feel. Remember to keep your asthma under control so that you can keep living life to the fullest.

The Author, Racheal Masibo, is an Assistant Lecturer at St John’s University of Tanzania (SJUT)-School of Nursing, P.O BOX 47 Dodoma Tanzania. Email: rackelmasibo@yahoo.com Mobile: 0717513598

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