Understanding Asthma

In New Zealand, over 597,000 people take medication for asthma; that’s an estimated 1 in 7 children and 1 in 8 adults. For children, asthma is one of the most common causes of hospital admissions. In 2015 alone, 87 people died from asthma in New Zealand.

Currently there is no cure for asthma, however there are lots of things you can do to manage it better so that it doesn’t impact on your life too heavily. The first step is to learn as much as you can about the condition and the steps you can put in place to control it.

What is asthma?

People with asthma have sensitive airways in their lungs. The airways may tighten, partially close up, swell inside, and make more mucus when faced with certain triggers. This makes it hard to breathe in, and even harder to breathe out.

What causes asthma?

We don’t know why so many people have asthma, but we know that it is most common in English speaking countries. It may be related to modern living, such as changes to the environment or diet.

Although asthma cannot be cured, there may be times in your life when you think it has gone away. Most of the time, with the right information, education and attitude, you can manage your asthma so that you can go about day-to-day life without symptoms.

What are the symptoms of asthma?

If you have asthma you might sometimes feel wheezy, short of breath, tight in the chest, or have a long lasting cough.

You may experience one of these symptoms or a combination of them. Symptoms may occur suddenly as a flare-up or ‘asthma emergency’, or they may be with you most of the time. Asthmatics often get hay fever or eczema as well, and have a family history of these conditions.

For most people, asthma is just something to be careful about. However, every year, some people do die from asthma. Certain factors can cause asthma flare-ups; these are called ’triggers’. Common triggers include animal hair, dust mites, pollen, smoke, exercise, the common cold, or changes of temperature.

Follow a Self-Management Plan

An Asthma Action Plan, filled out by your doctor, can help you work out how well you are and what to do if your asthma gets worse or better. Research shows that people who follow self-management plans have better control over their asthma. You can download your own action plan from

Use a Peak Flow Meter

You can learn the patterns of your asthma by using a peak flow meter, which tells you how fast you can blow air out. When your airways are fully open you will get a high reading, and when your airways start to get narrow the reading becomes lower. You can use these readings, along with your symptoms, to decide when to change your treatment by following your Asthma Action Plan.

Take your medication as prescribed

It is important that you understand how your medicines or asthma inhalers work, and then take them as prescribed. There are different devices to deliver your medicines, as well as devices like spacers that are important in delivering the medication effectively.

Know the steps for an asthma emergency

An asthma emergency can happen at any time, so it is important to know the steps of asthma first aid and be quick to act if you are ever in an emergency situation. The best way to remember the steps is the 6 breaths, 6 puffs, 6 minutes rule. Take 6 puffs of your reliever inhaler, with 6 deep breaths per puff. Repeat this every 6 minutes until help arrives or until regular breathing returns.

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