May 2 of every year is set aside to remind nations and individuals of the scourge of Asthma. It is a chronic disease of the lungs which leads to breathing problems. It is caused by swelling in the breathing tubes that carry air in and out of the lungs. Whilst asthma cannot be cured, the symptoms can be controlled enabling people with the ailment to live full lives. These symptoms vary in frequency and severity. When they are not under control, the airways can become inflamed making breathing difficult. This inflammation can mean the tubes becoming narrow. The tubes can also be blocked with mucus. Triggers include various allergens such as dust mites, animal fur and pollen. Chest infections, exercise, cigarette smoke and gases can also be triggers. Complications of asthma include tiredness, stress, anxiety and depression. There is no cure and it can affect people of all ages. It can be diagnosed in childhood and even later in life. Experts believe that inhalers can be used to prevent and relieve the symptoms.
However, some people do outgrow the condition as they get older. Symptoms include wheezing, being breathless, having a tight chest and coughing. Sometimes someone with asthma can suffer an attack – where they struggle to breath – which can be life threatening.
World Asthma Day was established in 1998; the first event was set to coincide with the first World Asthma Meeting (WAM) in Barcelona, Spain. Over 35 countries were involved. Over time, World Asthma Day has grown and is widely recognised as the world’s most important asthma awareness event.
It is organised by the Global Initiative for Asthma (GINA) to improve asthma awareness and care around the world. The overall aim is to decrease the number of people who die from asthma attacks. It is also to raise awareness, care and support for those affected by the disease. While the primary focus is supporting the person with asthma, support may also extend to family, friends and caregivers. It is thought that as many as 300 million people suffer from some form of asthma in the world – and there are 250,000 death each year linked to the disease. As many other diseases are decreasing in number, the cases of asthma continue to increase with the number projected to reach 400 million by 2025.
The Day is also designed to improve awareness of the condition with the view to ensuring that those with the condition are able to get diagnosed. People with asthma are made aware of positive steps they can take to help them cope with their condition. As with many other awareness events, a theme is often set for this day which provides a focus for activities. The theme for this year is “Asthma- Better Air, Better Breathing.”
There are a number of positive steps that can be taken to help a patient. These include, prepare a personal asthma management plan with the help of a doctor. The management plan should be tailored to the person with asthma and will cover which medications should be taken at certain times during the day and which risk factors of asthma to avoid; take relevant medications prescribed by a doctor which relieve symptoms of asthma and control related inflammation and swelling of the airways; educate the patient about the risk factors of asthma which can bring on symptoms and make the condition worse; learn to recognise when the symptoms are becoming worse and be prepared in case one has an asthma attack. This preparation involves carrying a card which informs others about ones condition and gives instructions on what to do when one has a severe asthma attack.
By educating people with asthma on how to control their symptoms, it is hoped that the incidence of severe asthma attacks will fall and also the subsequent number of hospital visits.
GINA worldwide provides many free resources for health care organisations, charities and members of the public who wish to organise their own awareness activities for World Asthma Day. These may come in the form of free asthma screening clinics at a local medical facility; arranging media advertisements; organising debates about local factors which can affect asthma sufferers; setting up a free asthma telephone help line; educating children about asthma in a fun manner using games.
In Nigeria, the event was marked by the Nigeria Thoracic Society (NTS) which disclosed that over 15 million Nigerians suffer from the disease. The society also called for a legislation against air pollution and for the intensification of the war against cigarette smoking.