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Learn the lingo - Part 2

16 Jan 2019

In Part 1 we explained some common yet often confusing terms about asthma diagnosis and medicines. There’s a lot to absorb as you continue your journey of learning to live well with asthma. So let’s cover some of the jargon you’re likely to come across when managing asthma on a daily basis.

What is the difference between an asthma exacerbation, asthma attack or a flare-up?

In short: nothing! These terms all refer to what happens when your asthma symptoms start or when they get worse compared to usual. The symptoms won’t disappear by themselves – treatment is needed.

The term asthma attack can be especially confusing as it means different things to different people. Some people may think wheezing is an asthma attack whereas others will think of an attack as being a flare-up that is severe enough to go to hospital.

What is an asthma trigger?

An asthma trigger is anything that makes your asthma get worse or causes symptoms to occur.

Some common triggers are respiratory infections like colds and flu, cigarette smoke, or allergy-related triggers such as dust mites, pollens, pets or mould. Changes in air temperature or humidity levels and some thunderstorms can also trigger symptoms. Exercise is a common asthma trigger, but it is important you don’t let asthma stop you being physically active.  You may wish to follow our tips on getting active with asthma.

My doctor said to watch for wheezing in my child but when I listen to their chest there’s lot going on in there! How can I tell if they are wheezing?

Wheezing occurs when the small airways of the lungs become narrow or constricted. This makes it difficult to breathe, so it causes a high pitched whistling or squeaking sound when breathing out. It is a symptom that can often be confusing and, quite understandably, upsetting for parents.  Sometimes it will be obvious but at other times it may be difficult to hear without a stethoscope. Over time you will get to know what your child’s wheeze usually sounds like. Initially, it may even be helpful to record your child wheezing to discuss with your doctor or asthma educator.  

If you are unsure whether to seek medical attention, there are some other signs to look for. These include observing if you can see the muscles of your child’s chest and neck working harder to get air in with each breath, coughing, breathlessness when they are talking, breathing that is hard and fast, or if their asthma reliever doesn’t seem to be working. If they are old enough, they may complain of a tight or painful feeling in their chest or having a sore tummy.

What is the difference between an asthma action plan and asthma management plan?

Your asthma management plan is a long term strategy developed between you and your asthma care team to help you manage your asthma well. It should include medications, lifestyle and nutrition advice, asthma education and resources and a written asthma action plan. 

Your written asthma action plan is a personalised plan that has clear instructions on what to do when you are well and when you have asthma symptoms. It should include details of the dose of medicines to be taken when well, when asthma symptoms get worse and what to do in an asthma emergency.

The goal of both plans is to give you everything you need to live well with asthma, and reduce the likelihood of a severe flare up. 

We hope we’ve helped you feel confident and positive about your own or a loved one’s asthma diagnosis and management. Our goal is to help people with asthma live better in every possible way. If you would like more information, or would like to ask us a question or leave a comment, please visit us on Facebook at The Asthma Experts.

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Learn the lingo - Part 1