Updated 01 November 2017

Practical advice for asthma sufferers (and their parents)

We share 11 practical tips on how to manage asthma better.

1. Find out what triggers the asthma. Have professional allergy tests done. Avoid those triggers. Even inhaling smoke particles clinging to the clothes of someone who has smoked outside can bring on an attack.

2. Be informed about the nature of your asthma and make sure you understand why you must use two kinds of medication to keep it under control.

3. Use the medication exactly as prescribed. Ensure the two inhalers are always handy. Parents should leave extra cortisone and reliever inhalers with their child's teacher.

4. Use the inhalers effectively. Breathe in deeply while you depress the inhaler, hold your breath for a count of 10 and repeat. Consult your doctor about a plan of action for acute asthma attacks.

5. Act when your chest feels tight and your reliever inhaler doesn't help quickly enough. Know when it's time to grab your packed bag and head for hospital – if you wait too long it could cost your life. Let your doctor know you're on your way.

6. Be mindful of the "second wave". A second asthma attack often follows fast on the heels of the first.

7. Asthma in patients who regularly test themselves for peak-flow measurement is controlled better than in those who don't. A peak-flow meter can be bought at any pharmacy and indicates how well your lungs are functioning when you exhale. Your lung function is also an indication of how well you are controlling your asthma.

8. Learn to recognise the typical appearance of an asthmatic and act correctly in accordance with it. Take note if your child leans with his hands on a table as though he's trying to force his chest open, if his shoulders are hunched and if he's clearing his throat or sighing often.

9. Have your child thoroughly evaluated by your doctor at least once every four months. Asthma is a chronic disease that varies in severity from time to time.

10. Asthmatics should be able to lead completely normal lives, which means they should be able to eat, drink and sleep normally. If this is not the case, the diagnosis, treatment and medication should be re-evaluated.

11. Don't stop asthma treatment if your child seems healthy. It's like using a contraceptive pill: you can't stop when it's working or you'll be in for a nasty surprise.  

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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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