Melomed Articles

14 February 2019 - Dr. Mugammad Taib  Ismail


Dr MT Ismail is a qualified Paediatrician who has an extensive amount of experience in care of well and sick babies and kids. His special interests are neonatal care, allergies, asthma, feeding problems and developmental problems. He graduated in 1997 and worked as a general practitioner up until 2004. After having serviced the community as a general practitioner he then worked in various paediatric settings where he spent a significant amount of time in the Neonatal ICU and Paediatric ICU units of Tygerberg Hospital, Mowbray Maternity, Somerset Hospital, Red Cross Children's Hospital as well as Groote Schuur. 

Asthma is a chronic condition affecting the airways of the lungs. The symptoms of asthma are wheezing difficulty breathing and short of breath. An estimated 3 million people suffer from asthma worldwide. Asthma tends to run in families, same as hay fever and eczema. There is no cure for it but if kept under control, those suffering from asthma will be able to live normal lives. Not many people know this, but 2004 Olympic gold medallist, Ryk Neethling suffers from lifelong asthma. Despite having asthma, he has achieved a number of world records and Olympic gold medals. He has achieved this by ensuring that his asthma is well controlled.

Here are 11 most common questions I get asked about ASTHMA:

Q: Do allergies have anything to do with asthma?
A:  Studies has shown that 50% of asthma cases are linked to allergies. These allergens include, cats, pollen, mould and dust mites. Inflamed airways in asthmatics are more sensitive to allergens and hence asthma is more likely to be triggered in an environment with a high allergen load. 

Q: Can moving to a different location cure asthma? 
A: Moving to a dry climate will improve asthma symptoms. It is worth noting that this is not a permanent defect. Hence moving will not cure the disease. By cleaning one's aircon unit every year, keeping the windows closed during pollen season and using a dehumidifier can also reduce asthma triggers in every home.

Q: Is it true that people with asthma are not allowed to get the flu shot? 
A: NO! It is highly recommended by The Centres of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that people should get their flu vaccinations annually. But unfortunately, according to the CDC, each year about two thirds of adults do not get these vaccinations resulting to an increased risk for asthma attacks triggered by the common flu.

Q: Can one outgrow asthma? 
A: Although asthma is a chronic condition which develops and is usually diagnosed in childhood, it cannot be outgrown as thought by many sufferers. If the asthma develops later on in life, it is due to the pre-existence of the condition which may have been so mild, that it remained undetected until much later in life possibly due to changes in environment, a respiratory virus, smoking or various other external reasons. As the sufferer ages, their symptoms may ease and become even more manageable and even negligible but it will always be there.  

Q: Is asthma just all in the head?
A: The disease affects the airways - it's not psychological. Asthma is caused by a reaction when the immune system is triggered due to various external factors occurring in the air we breathe, causing the lungs to react. The stress experienced during an attack or at the onset of an attack does not make it a psychological problem. Even when the sufferer is not experiencing an attack, medically their lung cells would still reveal their condition. 

Q: Are asthma medicines habit forming? 
A: Asthma medications are not addictive! Asthma is a chronic disease therefore long term medication is needed to manage the condition and prevent asthma attacks. It is extremely important to always follow your doctor's recommendations for treatment.

Q: Do asthma medications stop working overtime?
A: Asthma medication remains effective if used continuously and correctly as prescribed by your doctor. Those suffering from mild asthma can use the quick-relief inhalers to treat asthma when symptoms appear. People who experience more severe asthma attacks may need daily medication to reduce blocking of the airways. When asthma is more severe, taking medication only to relieve symptoms is not enough treatment;, because the underlying issue airway inflammation is not being properly treated. 

Q:  Are people with asthma allowed to exercise? 
A: By doing exercise it can improve lung function and help you maintain a healthy weight - also decrease the risk of getting an asthma attack, exercise helps one to breathe easier. Consult with your doctor before beginning an exercise program. Exercise is as important for people with asthma as it is for anyone else. If medications are taken as prescribed, people with asthma can exercise normally and often vigorously. People with asthma are better off doing exercise in an environment with high humidity. During exercise narrowing of airway passages can be caused by dry air. By doing a slow warm up and cool down, it can help prevent narrowing of the airways. The goal for anyone suffering from asthma should be to live a normal and healthy lifestyle.

Q: Is asthma easy to control? 
A: This all depends on how well you follow your treatment plan. Treating asthma can be difficult to manage. The main goal for every asthmatic is to prevent chronic symptoms and asthma flare ups, to maintain a normal lung function. Your doctor and you should aim to achieve this without serious long term effects from asthma or the medication.  

Q: Should you only use asthma medicine to stop an attack? 
A: Depending on the severity of the four categories of asthma, sufferers will need daily doses of a prevention or controller medicine to control inflammation of the lungs and to minimise the asthma attack.
Q: Can dietary supplements help ease asthma symptoms?
A: well balanced diet, low in fats and red meats, and higher in whole grains, fruits and vegetables are highly recommended to all those suffering from asthma. There is no proof that specific nutrients will help treat asthma.

Q: Is the home nebulizer a good investment?
A: NO! Home nebulizers are not the same as nebulizers used in hospitals. Hospital nebs are oxygen driven and oxygen itself is a potent treatment option in the treatment of asthma. Technology has changed tremendously over the past 30 years. A spacer with a mask and an inhaler is as effective as a home nebulizer. However, far less medication is used (a few drops when used the pump vs 1/2 tablespoon of medication when using a nebulizer) Hence, the side effects are far less when using asthma pumps than with home nebulizers.

Q. Does asthma medication weaken the heart?
A. Yes! But if used correctly the side effects are minimal, however untreated and poorly controlled asthma is even more dangerous. Asthma can result in death or brain damage or failure to thrive in children. It is important not to ignore asthma, pretending it's not there, will also not cure asthma. 


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