Avoiding allergy triggers can prevent an asthma attack


April 2014

Avoiding allergy triggers can prevent an asthma attack

There is a nip in the air these days, a warning that winter is on its way. As the season of hibernation, everything about winter tells us to curl up, stay warm and stay indoors. However, no matter how spotless your particular hibernation spot may be, spending more time indoors means spending more time with allergy triggers, not to mention the usual lurking winter viruses and all of these can worsen asthma symptoms.

According to a recent report by the Global Initiative for Asthma (GINA), South Africa has the world’s fourth highest asthma death rate among five to 35 year olds.  Of the estimated 3.9 million South Africans with asthma, 1.5% die of this condition annually.

Peter Jordan, Principal Officer of Fedhealth says that the prevalence of asthma in Southern Africa is higher than any other area on the continent, with more than 20% of school children across the region suffering from this condition. “In South Africa asthma is the third most common cause of hospital admissions of children, yet only 2% of asthmatics receive treatment,” he says.

“Under-diagnosis and under-treatment remain problematic, as indicated by a large proportion of adolescents with asthma symptoms who have never been diagnosed or who continue to experience severe symptoms despite diagnosis,” says Jordan.

“It is important for people with asthma to be aware of the various triggers that spark an asthma attack and to avoid these where possible,” he adds and points out that the prevalence of these triggers may increase or decrease from season to season.


“Common asthma triggers include animals, dust, changes in weather, chemicals in the air or food, exercise, mould, pollen, respiratory infections such as the common cold, strong emotions, and tobacco smoke. Aspirin and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can also provoke asthma in some patients,” says Jordan.  “In addition, cold dry air can cause airways to tighten and make breathing more difficult and this can also increase asthma attacks,” he says.


Jordan says that winter months are particularly hazardous for asthma sufferers because of the cold temperatures.  “Winter is also the season for the common cold and flu and viral infections trigger asthmatic attacks.”  He advises that all asthma sufferers get flu vaccinations as a preventative measure.



What are the signs of asthma?

Early warning signs that may occur just before or at the very beginning of an asthma attack include frequent coughing, especially at night; shortness of breath; feeling fatigued and irritable; feeling tired or weak when exercising; wheezing or coughing after exercise; decreases in lung function as measured on a peak flow metre; signs of a cold or allergies; and trouble sleeping.


“In general, these signs are not severe enough to stop you from going about your daily activities, but through recognising the signs, asthmatics can prevent an attack or prevent yourself from getting worse,” says Jordan.


Not every person with asthma has the same symptoms and while some asthmatics may go for extended periods without having any symptoms, others may have asthma symptoms everyday. The correct diagnosis, treatment options and monitoring is of vital importance as these are the factors that can dramatically improve quality of life.


“Asthma is a serious condition and the sooner members can get onto a treatment programme with regular check-ups from their medical doctor, the more fulfilling their lives will be,” concludes Jordan.


Practical Tips for Asthma sufferers


  • If you are using a reliever and you have an acute attack, administer two puffs.
  • If you have a spacer, use it with the pump so that the spray can get down deeply into your chest.
  • If it is very bad or did not work, use 5 – 10 puffs in a row.
  • If this still does not work, you need to get to hospital.  Remember to take your pump with you and keep giving yourself 5- 10 puffs along the way.
  • Know your early warning signs and symptoms and make sure your friends, family and work colleagues have a list of your warning symptoms as well as an action plan with written instructions on what to do in an emergency.
  • Display these details in a prominent place so that everyone knows what to do when an asthma attack occurs. Remember to include the telephone numbers of your doctor and the local hospitals.



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