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Asthma sufferers can breathe easier

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Asthma sufferers can breathe easier

Perhaps the scariest of all Edgar Allan Poe's stories is the one called 'The Cask of Amontillado' in which the narrator, Montresor, gets revenge on his enemy Fortunato for a thousand unnamed injuries. He lures Fortunato into the catacombs of the Montresor house with the promise of some Amontillado wine and then walls him into a crypt, leaving him to suffocate.

The story has resonated for generations because it plays upon the human fear of not being able to breathe. Yet for people who suffer from asthma, not being able to breathe isn't just a fictional premise…it's a very real possibility.


Asthma is a chronic lung condition, often hereditary, that affects adults and children. People with the disease have very sensitive airways in their lungs. This sensitivity causes swelling of the airway linings, increased mucous in the airways and tightening of the muscles around the airways. Symptoms include wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath, or a tight feeling in the chest. Asthma attacks can be brought on by a wide range of triggers, including certain foods, tobacco smoke, pollution, dust, pets, pollens, weather, emotional factors (laughing, stress, etc.), or exercise.

Although the condition is incurable and can be life-threatening, the vast majority of asthmatics can manage it well with the use of medications. "When asthma is properly controlled, people should be able to live perfectly normal lives…work, exercise…everything," said Sue Impey, Respiratory Therapist and Certified Asthma Educator in the Asthma Clinic at William Osler Health Centre, a multi-site hospital in the Greater Toronto Area.

However, this may mean making some lifestyle changes or taking medication to keep lungs healthy. Patients can have varying degrees of asthma and control it in different ways. For example, some may need to take preventive medications on a daily basis, whereas some may just use medications seasonally or when they get a cold. All asthmatics need rescue medication for quick relief for when their asthma flares up and perhaps before exercising. These common medications can be in the form of inhalers (puffers) and pills.

While some people are hesitant about taking medicine of any kind or giving it to children, Impey notes that proper monitoring of asthma and use of medications actually helps in reducing hospitalizations and improving quality of life for patients. In fact, in severe cases, a lack of appropriate medication can result in 'airway remodelling' where the calibre of the airways is changed and damage becomes irreversible.

Environmental control is the number one way to control asthma," Impey said. "All the puffers in the world won't help you if you have five cats sleeping in your bed!"

(Asthma is a variable disease – it comes and goes – and the symptoms can be similar to other lung conditions. Only a physician can provide a proper diagnosis. Therefore, if you or your child show signs of asthma, it is important to discuss them with your family doctor.)