A Teenagers Guide to Asthma

If you have asthma...

Find out what is happening inside your lungs

Millions of teenagers around the world have asthma – some think it is embarrassing – some try ignoring it, hoping it will go away – some are concerned about living with asthma for the rest of their lives. You know best how you feel about having asthma. Getting short of breath or wheezing and having to use a puffer is a real pain. Another pain has to be avoiding all kinds of things you enjoy because they might ‘trigger’ your asthma symptoms. The point is, you need to know all this stuff about asthma so YOU can be in control.

Why did I get asthma?

Unfortunately, science still does not have the complete picture as to why people get asthma but we know that it does seem to run in families.

Can asthma be cured?

Afraid not, but many people lead a life with very few symptoms because they manage to control their asthma using their medicines.

What happens in my lungs?

Inside your lungs are thousands of tubes called airways. These carry air in and out of your body. If you have asthma, your airways are extra sensitive and become red and swollen. They secrete extra mucous and the muscle surrounding the airway tightens. Together, all of these events make it harder to breathe and they cause the signs and symptoms of asthma.

How do I know I have asthma?

You will have the signs and symptoms of asthma. The main ones are:

  • Cough (especially at night or after/during exercise)
  • Wheeze (this is a sound that can be heard when breathing)
  • Chest tightness (feels as if you are getting a strong hug and can’t get air into your lungs)
  • Breathless (you get puffed out a lot quicker than your friends)

Some teenagers get all of these while others only have on or two. You may also find that you get tired easily.

Why does it get worse?

Heaps of things make your asthma worse – these are called triggers. Some common triggers are:

  • Getting a cold or flu
  • Pollen, dust and animals
  • Cold weather
  • Smoking
  • Exercise

What are asthma inhalers for and what do they do?

There are two main types of medicine in asthma inhalers that help to improve your asthma symptoms.

The first is called a RELIEVER or BRONCHODILATOR, which are mainly blue, and they stop the muscle surrounding the airways from tightening. These relievers will make you feel better quickly, and are only taken when you have symptoms and before exercise. Keep it with you all the time.

Second is called a PREVENTER which works by reducing the inflammation in your airways. You preventer is a corticosteroid and is perfectly safe to use in the correct dose. It is not a steroid like the kind some athletes use to build their muscles. It is essential that this medicine is taken as prescribed, usually twice a day, every day. If you stop taking it, your symptoms will return. It may take 3-4 weeks from starting this medicine before you feel the benefit. This medicine helps you control asthma not asthma controlling you.

There are also inhalers that are a combination of a preventer and long acting reliever, these are usually taken twice a day although some brands are taken once a day, therefore it is very important to take your medication as prescribed by your doctor.

No doubt you’ve heard that smoking is bad for everyone. If you have asthma, starting to smoke is one of the worst things you could do. Not only is smoking a trigger for asthma, but it can cause breathlessness and people who have asthma may be already breathless. Sure, plenty of people still smoke, but think about your lungs – they have to last you a long time! So if you don’t smoke – that’s cool! If you do, ask your doctor/practice nurse to help you stop today.

Want to know more?  Take a look at our Teenagers Guide to Asthma brochure.

For specific information about your own asthma, ask your practice nurse or phone your local asthma society.