Asthma is a chronic inflammatory respiratory condition that causes difficulty breathing, but it can be managed with proper medication.
Hisham Metwally, Pharmacy Manager at Otter Co-op in Aldergrove, B.C., talked to us about asthma and the role your pharmacist can play in helping you manage the disease.
An introduction to asthma
"People with asthma have very sensitive airways that become inflamed and tighten when they breathe in anything that irritates them," explained Metwally.
These irritants cause asthma symptoms like shortness of breath, wheezing, tightness in the chest and coughing.
An asthma attack is a sudden worsening of symptoms, such as breathlessness or difficulty speaking, eating or sleeping. If this occurs, it's important to administer your reliever medication and seek medical attention.
Common asthma triggers can be either allergic or non-allergic. Allergic triggers include dust mites, animals, moulds and pollens. Non-allergic triggers include smoke, exercise, cold air, chemical fumes and other strong-smelling substances like perfumes.
The only way to limit an asthma trigger's effect is avoiding that trigger. This may mean quitting smoking or living without pets.
How is asthma treated?
Asthma is most commonly treated with medication that is breathed into the lungs using a device called an inhaler.
"The most common inhalers are controller inhalers, which try to stop asthma symptoms from occurring, and reliever inhalers, which relieve asthma symptoms when they do occur," said Metwally.
Reliever inhalers contain medication called short-acting beta agonists, which relax the muscles around the tightened airways so the airways can open wider, making it easier to breathe.
Controller inhalers contain corticosteroids. Inhaling these steroids every day helps to control inflammation and reduces asthma symptoms.
How can my pharmacist impact my asthma treatment?
Your pharmacist can help you understand your medication, how to use it, and its role in managing your asthma.
"If you don’t use your inhaler correctly, the medication won’t get into your airways and you won’t experience its full benefit," said Metwally.
Different inhalers work in different manners. Your pharmacist can help teach the proper technique for using your inhaler and improve effectiveness by observing how you use it.
If you're experiencing difficulty, your pharmacist can recommend a tool called a spacer, which suspends the drug in a tube attached to the inhaler so you can breathe the medication in more easily.
Metwally told us your asthma is generally well controlled if you use your reliever medication no more than three times per week, your asthma does not stop you from doing anything or wake you up at night, and you haven’t had a recent attack. Your pharmacist will help you assess how well your medication is working and how well your asthma is being controlled.
If you have questions about asthma or its treatment, talk to your local Otter Co-op pharmacist.