Living with asthma

Living with asthma

This month we discuss how asthma can be managed and why we recommend getting your flu shot if you have asthma or live with someone who does.

What is asthma? 

Asthma is a common chronic respiratory condition. Roughly 8% of Canadians live with asthma. Symptoms include:

  • chronic coughing,

  • wheezing, and

  • shortness of breath.

Anyone can develop asthma at any age, but it typically begins in early childhood. Since asthma is a chronic condition, it cannot be cured, but it can be managed with lifestyle adjustments and drug treatments. Asthma does not mean you cannot enjoy an active and healthy lifestyle.


Asthma attacks

Asthma patients experience the day-to-day symptoms of coughing and wheezing, but asthma can also flare up into severe symptoms. These flare ups are also referred to as “asthma attacks” or “exacerbations” and are usually triggered by allergic reactions, infections and pollution.

During an asthma attack, the irritated airways narrow making it difficult to breathe. Here are a few things you can do to prevent an asthma attack:

  • Avoid smoking and places where others have been smoking.

  • Try to avoid environmental allergens such as pet dander, pollen, and occupational irritants.

  • If you know you will be around known allergen take allergy medications (antihistamines) in advance.

  • Keep active and use a fast-acting inhaler (e.g. Ventolin) to make breathing easier during exercise, if that is a trigger for you.

  • Cold air can also act as a trigger. Avoid exercising in the cold air whenever possible.


Drug treatment

Asthma can change over time, so it is important to work closely with your doctor and pharmacist to adjust your medications as needed. Managing your asthma is essential in preventing long term damage to your airways.

Long-Term Asthma Control Medications are typically taken on a regular basis to control inflammation of the respiratory system and prevent attacks. They include inhaled corticosteroids (to treat inflammation of airways), long-acting beta agonists (to open the airways), leukotriene modifiers, and theophylline.

Quick Relief Asthma Medications/ Rescue Medications are normally used as needed for quick, short term relief of symptoms and treatment of an asthma attack. These are puffers such as Ventolin and Atrovent, as well as oral/ IV corticosteroids (used only for serious asthma attacks).

If you find that you are reaching for your rescue inhaler more than three times a week (not including use before exercise), then your asthma may not be controlled and you should raise this issue with your family doctor.


Proper use of your inhaler

Inhalers deliver an effective amount of medication directly to where they are needed - the lungs - so they can start improving asthma symptoms immediately. However, if you are using your inhaler incorrectly less medication is delivered to your lungs, medication is wasted, and overall management of your asthma is sub-optimal. This leads to reduced quality of life and more time in hospital.

The correct technique depends on the kind of inhaler, so make sure you know the right steps for your inhaler. Your DrugSmart Pharmacist is the best resource to help you learn how to use your inhaler properly and they can share the common errors that are made with different types of inhalers. Ask your local DrugSmart pharmacist for a demonstration of your device today.


Get your flu shot!

The influenza virus, commonly known as the flu, is a contagious respiratory illness that affects the nose, throat, and lungs. Those with chronic respiratory conditions (like asthma) have an especially high risk of developing flu complications, including worsening asthma symptoms.

The annual flu shot is your best protection against the flu viruses expected to be in circulation this season. It is not too late to protect yourself and those around you, visit your local DrugSmart Pharmacy to get your flu shot today! 

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  1. RxTx, a source of evidence-based and reliable drug information used by Canadian pharmacists

  2. Canadian Lung Association:

  3. Asthma Canada:

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