A GP has shared some of the top triggers of asthma to keep an eye out for – and some tips and tricks to help manage day-to-day symptoms.
Dr. Ahmeda Ali, a GP with Webdoctor.ie, told Chic that while asthma is something that would typically show up during childhood, it can “absolutely” return at any stage.
She continued, “There are some patients where it runs in their family so they’re well used to it, and there’s some patients where they don’t have any family history of it.
“You can grow out of it and it can return back at a later stage, say if you’re unwell with a cough or a cold. It’s really hard for us, as healthcare professionals, to predict who’s going to go down which route – sometimes it returns, sometimes you can completely grow out of it.
“For World Asthma Day, this year in particular, they’re trying to bust some myths around asthma. One particular one that they want to bust is that, do you know that some people think that asthma is infectious? But it’s actually not.
“Some people think that people with asthma shouldn’t exercise, but that’s not true either. Others think that everyone grows out of their childhood asthma, some people do but some people don’t. It’s all about tracking and monitoring your symptoms and seeing how things develop, really. ”
The GP added that the “slightest trigger” could impact asthma – and it may not even be one that you suspect.
She recalled, “There was one person I came across, and they were using feather pillows. It turns out that was actually what was triggering her asthma. When you’re with the GP, it’s nice to try and figure out what’s triggering it or what’s happening in your daily life to see, say, what can we remove? What can we reduce contact with, to try and find the triggers.
“In her case, it turned out she was allergic to the feathers in her pillows – something that we wouldn’t usually think of, but it can happen.”
Dr. Ali also told how one of “the biggest myths around asthma” is around exercise – and how one of the things she has come across in her practice is that people reckon when you have asthma, “you should stop exercising because it will make it worse ”.
However, she said that it is, in fact, “absolutely OK to exercise with asthma” – and shared her advice on how to successfully navigate sports and exercise with asthma.
She continued, “What we would suggest to patients is to make sure that you have a good warm up before you exercise – say, for example, about 15 minutes of a really good warm up before you start your sports or exercise. And then make sure you have a good cool-down period afterwards, as well.
“It’s also really good to make sure that you’ve got your reliever inhaler to hand when you’re exercising. Say, for example, if you know that ‘uh oh, my asthma’s going to be triggered by exercise’ then you can take two puffs of your inhaler about 15 minutes before warming up. There are ways around it. ”
She also suggested that when going to exercise, to take part in sports or going to the gym, to let someone know where you’re going and when you’re expected to return – “just so you’re not alone in dealing with it or if things go down then there’s support around you ”.
And with hay fever season in full swing, Dr. Ali shared how that can impact people with asthma – and what differentiates asthma from other conditions.
She said, “With asthma, patients usually have shortness of breath, a cough or a wheeze – and those symptoms can be quite similar to hay fever.
“With hay fever you’ve got other symptoms like your watery or itchy eyes. Sometimes, patients tell us that they’ve got a bit of an itchy nose, a scratchy throat or a stuffy nose.
“But with asthma, it’s more related to the shortness of breath, your wheeze and cough, or the tightness of the chest. That would be the major difference.
“And with asthma, you’ve got the mild, moderate or severe symptoms. As you go down the categories with asthma, you can have difficulty breathing, coughing or talking.
“Also, the thing is, hay fever does unfortunately make asthma worse. It’s one of those triggers – there’s loads of different ones for asthma.
“Others could be pollen, dust mites, mold, smoking fumes, paint solvent or pollution – all these things can trigger asthma, and hay fever is one of them unfortunately.”
There are a number of things that people do to help manage their asthma on a day-to-day basis.
Dr. Ali said, “On the medical side of things, I’d say to chat to your local GP and make sure that there’s an Asthma Action Plan in place. This is a little leaflet or card and basically, there’s three sections – green, orange and red. There’s advice on what to do when you’re in those particular situations.
“On the green section, it tells you what to do manage every day asthma – and the red would tell you what to do if you’re having an asthma attack. And the great thing is, these cards are available online or with the local GP or practitioner.
“You can get those action plans, stick it on the fridge or put it somewhere where you and your family can see it – and you use it as a reminder on what to do.”
She also advised booking in a yearly review with your GP or nurse, so that you can have a chat “about what’s bothering you with your asthma or what’s working well” – and to double check if your technique with your inhaler is OK or not.
The GP continued, “The second I’d suggest is that there’s an asthma advice line on WhatsApp. It’s so good. You can take tips and advice from respiratory nurses or you can send them questions – and I think that it’s a good number to have in your phonebook, just to see how things are as you can have an informal chat.
“The other thing I’d suggest is trying to live a healthy lifestyle. Stay active and don’t be afraid to exercise with asthma.
“Another thing that you can do is take up journaling. It can be good to write down how you’re feeling or which days are good in terms of the asthma days – it’s good, sometimes, just to see what’s happening and what the pattern of your flares might be. ”
For more information about WebDoctor and its services, visit webdoctor.ie, and for more information about the Asthma Society of Ireland’s advice line, visit asthma.ie.