According to the World Health Organization, over 235 million people worldwide have been diagnosed with asthma. In Canada nearly one in ten people has asthma, and many more go undiagnosed. Across the country, each year thousands of people also visit emergency rooms for asthma-related episodes even though leading respirologists suggest that up to 75% of asthma related hospital visits are avoidable with proper management and care.
Chances are you know someone with asthma. While many Canadians have been diagnosed with asthma, there are thousands of others who are still dealing with undiagnosed and untreated asthma. People have different signs and symptoms of asthma. The symptoms can change over time and in varying situations, but people with asthma often have one or more these symptoms:
• Chest tightness
• Feeling short of breath
If left undiagnosed, and untreated, asthma can lead to decline in physical activities, breathing difficulties, hospitalization and, in some cases, death. Many people with untreated or poorly managed asthma do not recognize their symptoms. “I think there’s still a small percentage of people out there who accept that what’s going on is the norm,” says Dr. Wade Watson, Head of the Division of Allergy at the IWK Children’s Hospital in Halifax, NS. “It’s not until someone tells them this is not normal that they realize that perhaps their normal is not a good place to be.”
The Lung Association of Nova Scotia recommends that if you have one or more of the symptoms above, or you believe you may have asthma, then it’s time to visit your family doctor. To diagnose asthma your doctor will do a number of things such as asking detailed questions about your family medical history, conducting a physical exam, and possibly conducting a spirometry test, which is a simple breathing test to measure how much air you can blow out of your lungs. After diagnosis, your physician should always discuss an asthma action plan with you.
An asthma action plan is a free, personalized asthma tool that people use to keep their asthma under control. Studies have shown that people who use a written asthma action plan as part of their asthma self-management have fewer hospitalizations, emergency room visits, missed days at work or school, and days of restricted activity. An asthma action plan will tell you:
• What your symptoms mean
• How to adjust your reliever and controller medication
• When to seek help/medical attention
Your Lung Association reminds you that if you have asthma, talk to your healthcare provider and get your asthma under control. Be sure you ask them for an asthma action plan to help manage your asthma because the more you know, the more you can work with your doctor to keep your asthma under control.
You can also talk about your action plan with a certified asthma educator or certified respiratory educator, who are health-care professionals with special training in asthma management.