Asthma is a chronic breathing disorder characterized by recurrent attacks of breathlessness and wheezing. Some causes and triggers are common to all people with asthma, and some are more individual. Although the fundamental causes of asthma are not completely understood, the strongest risk factors for developing asthma are inhaled asthma triggers.
- indoor allergens (for example house dust mites in bedding, carpets and stuffed furniture, pollution and pet dander);
- outdoor allergens (such as pollens and moulds);
- tobacco smoke; and
- chemical irritants in the workplace.
Other triggers can include cold air, extreme emotional arousal such as anger or fear, and physical exercise. In some people, asthma can even be triggered by certain medications, such as aspirin and other non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs, and beta-blockers (which are used to treat high blood pressure, heart conditions and migraine). Urbanization has also been associated with an increase in asthma, however the exact nature of this relationship is unclear.
According to WHO estimates, 235 million people suffer from asthma globally. Although asthma cannot be cured, appropriate management can control the disorder and enable people to enjoy good quality of life. In addition, some children with milder forms of asthma outgrow their symptoms with age.
Living a normal life with asthma
With an inhaler and an action plan, Rohan now knows what to do when he feels an attack coming. Quick relief medication controls Rohan’s symptoms. He doesn’t need continuous treatment because his symptoms are intermittent rather than persistent. His asthma attacks have become less frequent, from once every three or four months to only about twice a year.
Now 10, Rohan currently lives in Geneva, Switzerland. He enjoys all the activities typical of a boy his age. He loves to skateboard and swim. “Asthma doesn’t mean that you can’t live a normal life,” his mother says. She believes her son is not restricted in any way by his asthma now that he has learned how to treat his symptoms.
Rohan leads a full and healthy life because his illness was detected early. Thanks to the help of a paediatrician, he now knows what he has to do when he has asthma symptoms. This is not the case for millions of children who are living with undiagnosed and untreated asthma. To effectively control asthma, medications must be affordable and available, especially to low-income families.