Updated 16 September 2014

A cold taking too long to clear may be asthma

Combination inhalers now make it easier to treat asthma.


Asthma affects more people than ever before: one in every ten children and one in 20 adults.

The severity of living with this condition has been reduced, however, with the correct use of the correct medication, according to Professor Klaus Rabe, Professor of Pulmonary Medicine and the Chairman of the Department of Pneumology at the University of Leiden.

"Asthma in a less severe form is much easier to manage. If this condition is adequately controlled, asthmatics can lead normal lives," he added. But controlling this condition adequately, especially in young children, is never easy.

Recognising asthma
"Children who come from high-risk families (such as when both parents are asthmatics) are genetically disposed to show asthmatic symptoms, such as wheezing, early on in life. It is often difficult to diagnose the disease in children, as wheezing could be a result of allergies or a viral infection. Some children grow out of it, some still have the occasional wheezing fit, and others just get worse. These are the ones who are then diagnosed as asthmatics," says Rabe.

He also pointed out that many adults who develop asthma later in life frequently had asthma as children, and often have symptoms of a viral infection, such as coughing and wheezing. People often mistake this condition for a common cold that is taking a long time to clear up. Many adults are unaware of the fact that they or their children suffer from this potentially dangerous condition.

Living with asthma
There are four different types of asthma: severe persistent, moderate persistent, mild persistent and mild intermittent.

  • Asthma attacks are typically episodic. The intervals between the attacks may be days, months or even years.
  • There are usually tell-tale signs before a full-blown attack, but these vary from person to person. Some people experience an itchy chin or throat and a dry mouth, while others may feel tired and irritable.
  • Common warning signs of an attack include light wheezing, pain when coughing, chest tightness, shortness of breath, or restlessness.
  • The best way to manage and control asthma is to identify and avoid triggers.
  • Common asthma triggers include animal dander, house dust mites, cockroaches, pollens and outdoor moulds, indoor mould, tobacco smoke and indoor pollutants.

Asthma treatment
When treating asthma, inflammation in the lungs and airways must be controlled, and shortness of breath be relieved.

Corticosteroids, cromolyns (a non-steroid treatment to reduce inflammation) and leukototriene inhibitors are long-term control medications that control and prevent inflammation in the lung of the bronchi and help stop or reduce swelling and mucus build up in the airways.

Short-acting bronchodilators are used to give immediate relief of shortness of breath. Long-acting bronchodilators can relieve symptoms for up to 12 hours.

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Professor Keertan Dheda has received of several prestigious awards including the 2014 Oppenheimer Award, and has published over 160 peer-reviewed papers and holds 3 patents related to new TB diagnostic or infection control technologies. He serves on the editorial board of the journals PLoS One, the International Journal of Tuberculosis and Lung Disease, American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Medicine, Lancet Respiratory Diseases and Nature Scientific Reports, amongst others.Read his full biography at the University of Cape Town Lung Institute

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