HMC treats 5000 asthma patients every year in Qatar
Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC) yesterday joined the international community to observe World Asthma Day, organized by the Global Initiative for Asthma (GINA) to raise awareness about asthma and improve asthma care throughout the world.
Asthma is a disease that affects the lungs and is one of the most common long-term diseases in children. Adults can also have asthma, which causes wheezing, breathlessness, chest tightness, and coughing at night or early in the morning.
“It can be hard to tell if someone has asthma, especially in children under the age of five. However, checking how well the lungs work and checking for allergies can help in diagnosing or ruling out asthma,” said Dr. Hisham Abdulsattar, Chief of Pulmonary/Allergy Division at HMC’s Department of Medicine.
Every year, up to 5000 patients with asthma visit the Chest Clinic for treatment and follow up appointments.
He noted that a breathing test, called spirometry, can also be done to find out how well the lungs are working. “We usually use a computer with a mouthpiece to test how much air a patient with asthma can breathe out after taking a very deep breath. The spirometer can measure airflow before and after a patient uses asthma medicine,” Dr. Abdulsattar said.
He explained that if someone has asthma, they have it all the time, but they will have asthma attacks only when something irritates their lungs. “An asthma attack may include coughing, chest tightness, wheezing, and trouble breathing. Asthma attacks happen in the body’s airways, which are the paths that carry air to the lungs. As the air moves through the lungs, the airways become smaller, like the branches of a tree are smaller than the tree trunk. During an asthma attack, the sides of the airways in the lungs swell and the airways shrink. Less air gets in and out of the lungs, and mucous that the body makes clogs up the airways.”
Dr. Abdulsattar said that an asthma attack can happen when a patient is exposed to asthma triggers such as tobacco smoke, dust mites, outdoor air pollution, cockroach allergens, pets, mold, and smoke from burning wood or grass.
“Infections linked to influenza (flu), colds, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV – a respiratory virus that infects the lungs and breathing passages) can trigger an asthma attack. As can sinus infections, allergies, breathing in chemicals, and acid reflux. Some medicines, bad weather – such as thunderstorms or high humidity, breathing in cold and dry air, and some foods, food additives, and fragrances can also trigger an asthma attack,” Dr. Abdulsattar explained.
He noted that physical exercise can trigger attacks too, although exercise also has positive health benefits and therefore people with asthma should take the precaution of seeking medical advice before starting an activity/exercise program. “Both children and adults with asthma should also carry the appropriate medication with them and have it close by when exercising, he added.
He also noted that strong emotions can lead to very fast breathing, which is known as hyperventilation, and can also cause an asthma attack.
Dr. Abdulsattar urged asthma patients to control their asthma and avoid an attack by taking their medicine as prescribed by their doctor and by staying away from things that can trigger an attack or by making informed decisions about exercise.
Dr. Abdulsattar pointed out that asthma patients do not use the same medications and that individual patients can have different asthma medication. “Some medicines can be breathed in, and some can be taken as a pill. Asthma medicines come in two types – quick-relief and long-term control. Quick-relief medicines control the symptoms of an asthma attack. If a patient needs to use quick-relief medicines more and more, they should visit their doctor to see if they need a different medicine. Long-term control medicines help patients have fewer and milder attacks, but they don’t help them while having an asthma attack.”
He added that asthma medicines can have side effects, but most side effects are mild and soon go away. Patients are encouraged to ask their doctor about the side effects of their medicines.