For those staffing Ontario’s toll-free Lung Health Information Line, many questions are all in a day’s work. Some callers want to know about a cough, air pollution, allergies, quitting smoking, the flu shot, radon and other lung health issues. And then there are the questions that go the other way.
“We get lots of calls from people worried about their asthma,” says Chris Haromy, a Certified Respiratory Educator and information line staffer with the Ontario Lung Association. “One of the first things we do is try to find out if their asthma is under control by using questions from the Asthma Control Check.”
Living with asthma can be a bit like driving a car: one minute you’re cruising along, breathing easily, not a care in the world; the next, you’re skidding off the road, coughing, wheezing and fighting for breath.
That’s why The Lung Association consulted with medical experts to develop the Asthma Control Check, a set of simple questions to warn you if your asthma is getting out of control.
“A lot of people we speak to do not have their asthma under control. In fact, many have had uncontrolled asthma for years,” says Haromy. “For example, some callers use their reliever inhalers every day, while others don’t exercise because they get too short of breath. Both groups are reporting classic signs of uncontrolled asthma.”
More than two million Ontarians – including one in five school children – live with this serious and potentially fatal lung disease. It’s one of the most common chronic diseases among children, and the number one reason for kids being admitted to hospital.
However, lung health experts say hospitalizations for asthma are now largely preventable, regardless of the age of the patient. “Modern asthma medications are incredibly effective,” says Dr. Tom Kovesi, a pediatric respirologist at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario, “but we need to do more to educate people about using them effectively.”
Dr. Alan Kaplan, a family physician with a practice in Richmond Hill, says the major reason for uncontrolled asthma is what doctors call ‘non-adherence’: you have no symptoms, feel fine, so decide to stop taking your controller medication. “For most people with asthma, a small dose of medication taken regularly is all that’s required.”
Because managing your asthma is much easier when you have a plan, every asthma patient should have an individual Asthma Action Plan, a set of instructions written out by the healthcare provider. This plan not only tells you how to manage your asthma: it also tells you how to recognize when your control is slipping and what to do if symptoms appear.
“It is completely reasonable for someone to expect not to be bothered by asthma symptoms and never have an exacerbation or worsening,” says Dr. Kaplan. “However, keeping asthma under control does take some effort, working with your physician and/or asthma educator.”
Dr. Kaplan’s advice? Take your medication regularly as directed; take it properly so it reaches deep into the lungs (this could mean using a valved holding chamber, or spacer, for medications delivered by a puffer); and avoid your asthma triggers (dust, smoke, pet dander, etc.).
If you answered YES to any one of these questions, speak to your healthcare provider about the right medications for you to take control of your asthma.
To find out more about the Ontario Lung Association Asthma Control Check, go to asthmacheck.ca or call the Lung Health Information Line at 1-888-344-LUNG (5864).