World Asthma Day (WAD) is observed on the first Tuesday in May every year to raise awareness on asthma worldwide.

It is an annual event organised by the Global Initiative of Asthma (GINA) in collaboration with care groups and asthma educators to educate people on best practices to control the illness and other allergic diseases.

The theme for this year’s celebration, “Uncovering Asthma Misconceptions” provided a call to action to address common myths and misconceptions concerning asthma that hindered persons with the condition from enjoying optimal benefit from the major advances in the management of the illness.

The myths include asthma being a childhood disease; persons will grow out of it as they age, asthma sufferers should not exercise, asthma is infectious and asthma is only controlled with high dose steroids.

In 1998, the first World Asthma Day was celebrated in more than 35 countries and the first meeting held in Barcelona, Spain.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), asthma is the most common chronic diseases among children worldwide. More than 339 million people are living with asthma.

Over 80 per cent of asthma-related deaths occur in low-and lower-middle income countries. An estimated 262 million people were affected with asthma in 2019 and caused 461,000 deaths.

Research shows that asthma kills around 1000 people every day and affects as many as 339 million people – and prevalence is rising. Low- and middle-income countries disproportionally suffer the most severe cases.

Asthma is a long-term condition affecting children and adults. The air passages in the lungs become narrow due to inflammation and tightening of the muscles around the small airways.

Symptoms of asthma include, cough, and wheeze, shortness of breath and chest tightness. These symptoms are intermittent and are often worse at night or during exercise.

It is not infectious, however, viral respiratory such as common cold and flu can cause asthma attacks.
In children, it is frequently associated with allergy, but asthma which begins in adulthood is less often allergic.

Although triggers of asthma vary from person to person, it includes viral infections (colds), dust, smoke, fumes, and changes in the weather, grass and tree pollen, animal fur and feathers, strong soaps, and perfume which can make symptoms worse.

According to research, asthma is more likely if other family members also have asthma – particularly a close relative, such as a parent or sibling.
Asthma occurs more in people who have other allergic conditions, such as eczema and rhinitis (hay fever), and children and adults who are overweight or obese are at a greater risk of asthma.

Urbanisation is associated with increased asthma prevalence, probably due to multiple lifestyle factors and the exposure to indoor and outdoor air pollution, house dust, mites, moulds, and occupational exposure to chemicals and fumes.

Low-birth weight, prematurity, exposure to tobacco smoke and other sources of air pollution and viral respiratory infections can affect developing lungs and increase the risk at an early stage.

Asthma is often under-diagnosed and under-treated, particularly in low- and middle-income countries.

People with under-treated asthma can suffer sleep disturbance, tiredness during the day, and poor concentration and, people with severe symptoms asthma may need to receive emergency health care and may be admitted to hospital for treatment and monitoring. In the most severe cases, asthma can lead to death.

Also, asthma sufferers and their families may miss school and work, with financial burden on the family and community.

Asthma cannot be cured, but good management with inhaled medications can control the disease and enable people with asthma to enjoy a normal, active life.

The use of inhalers can improve asthma symptoms and reduces the risk of severe asthma attacks and death.

There are two main types of inhalers: bronchodilators, that open the air passages and relieve symptoms; and steroids, that reduce inflammation in the air passages.

Treatment of asthma will depend on the frequency of symptoms and the types of inhalers available. Inhalers may be used regularly.

Access to inhalers is a problem in many countries. In 2019, only half of people with asthma had access to a bronchodilator and less than one in five had access to a steroid inhaler in public primary health-care facilities in low-income countries.

People with asthma and their families need education to understand more about the condition, treatment, triggers to avoid, and how to manage their symptoms at home.
It is also important to raise community awareness, to reduce the myths and stigma associated with asthma in some settings.
Despite the important advances in the clinical management of asthma, numerous research gaps need to be addressed through clinical, translational, and basic research.
The long-term goal of asthma research remains to prevent disease onset, and optimize management of established disease towards remission and cure.

Longitudinal follow-up studies of the Anti-inflammatory Reliever Therapy (ART) strategy in mild asthmatics are needed to investigate its effects over many years on critical clinical and physiologic outcomes.

Asthma is included in the WHO Global Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

WHO is taking action to extend diagnosis of and treatment for asthma.

The WHO Package of Essential Noncommunicable Disease Interventions (PEN) was developed to help improve NCD management in primary health care in low-resource settings.

PEN includes protocols for the assessment, diagnosis, and management of chronic respiratory diseases (asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), and modules on healthy lifestyle counselling, including tobacco cessation, and self-care.

Reducing tobacco smoke exposure is important for both primary prevention of asthma and disease management.

Global Initiative for Asthma, (GINA) is a WHO collaborative organisation founded in 1993 with the aim of raising awareness on the burden of asthma and dissemination of information on optimal management.

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