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When your asthma is out of control

More than half of Canadians with current asthma do not have their asthma under control. (A person with current asthma refers to someone who has been diagnosed with asthma.)

Why does asthma get out of control?

Asthma symptoms tend to vary over time, and every now and then your asthma symptoms can flare up. During a flare-up, also called an exacerbation, your asthma symptoms get worse, leading to symptoms such as shortness of breath, tightness in the chest, wheezing, and coughing.

Why do asthma flare-ups occur? Doctors believe it's due to the way the disease affects the airways (breathing tubes). People with asthma have narrower-than-average airways because the airways are inflamed and swollen, and may be clogged with mucus. On top of this, their airways can be extra sensitive to certain "triggers," such as cold air or cigarette smoke. When someone with asthma is exposed to a trigger, their airways tighten up even further, which can make it harder to breathe. The airway swelling combined with the triggers can lead to an asthma flare-up.

How do I know whether my asthma is in control?

Is your asthma really under control? Take the asthma control quiz! Ask yourself:

  • Do you have asthma symptoms on four or more days of the week?
  • Do you wake up during the night with asthma symptoms on one or more night(s) per week?
  • Does your asthma stop or hinder you from doing certain physical activities?
  • Does your asthma get worse from time to time?
  • Does your asthma get worse at certain times of the year (e.g., allergy season, cold weather)?
  • Have you recently missed work or school because of your asthma?
  • Do you take your "reliever" medication four or more times per week (not including one puff per day before exercise)?
  • Is your PEF (peak expiratory flow, a breathing test you can do at home with a device called a peak flow meter) less than 80% of your personal best?
  • Have you gone to the emergency room or made an unscheduled doctor's visit because of asthma symptoms in the past year?
  • Does your asthma get worse when you get a cold or a respiratory tract infection?

If you answered "yes" or "I don't know" to any of these questions, your asthma may be out of control. There are treatments available that can help get your asthma under control and manage worsening asthma symptoms. Make an appointment to talk to your doctor about ways to improve your asthma control, and what to do when your asthma gets worse.

What can happen to me if I don't get control of my asthma?

When your asthma spins out of control, it can lead to a frightening trip to the emergency department. You may end up spending some time in the hospital after an asthma flare-up. As well, you may miss work or school and lose valuable time from your personal life. Poor asthma control can also increase health care costs.

Controlling your asthma can help you avoid flare-ups and the problems they can cause. Talk to your doctor about getting your asthma under control, and learning more about treatments that can respond to increased symptoms or worsening asthma control.

All material copyright MediResource Inc. 1996 – 2024. Terms and conditions of use. The contents herein are for informational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Source:

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