Asthma 101: The Art of Breathing Freely

Asthma is a life-long condition that affects the lungs, making it difficult to breath. Although there is no cure for asthma, there are ways to manage its symptoms and achieve optimal functioning.

It is important to know what triggers your symptoms – coughing, wheezing, difficulty breathing – such as smoke, cold air, exercise, or dust. Being able to predict when an attack is more likely to happen can help you be prepared with the right treatment.

Normal airways
Airways of a person without asthma
Airways of a person with asthma - redness and swelling (inflammation) Airways of a person with asthma - tightened muscles (bronchospasm)
The muscles around the airways are relaxed, allowing the airways to stay open. The inside of the airways can get red, swollen, and filled with mucus. The muscles around the airways can spasm and squeeze tighter.
Diagram by the Canadian Lung Association, 2012

Treatment: Which one is which?

There are 2 types of medications for asthma: Controller/preventer and rescue medications. It is important to know which one to take and when.

Controller/preventer medications are taken everyday even when symptoms are not present – they prevent an attack

  • Help reduce the swelling and muscle spasms
  • Acts slowly and works over the long term
  • Inhaled medications that come in red or orange colored puffers
  • Prevents need to use your rescue medication (blue puffer)
  • Rescue medications are usually used only when symptoms arise – they rescue during an attack
  • Help to relax the muscles
  • Act quickly and only last a short time
  • Inhaled medications that come in blue colored puffers
  • Keep your rescue medication close by so it is ready when you need it

Management: Are you in control?

You should work with your doctor to create a personalized action plan that will help you customize your medications according to your symptoms.

It is important to know if your action plan is working for you. Contact your doctor if you are experiencing any of the following:

  • You are waking up at night with shortness of breath, coughing, or wheezing – more than once/week
  • Your rescue medication (blue puffer) is not relieving symptoms during an asthma attach
  • You need to use your rescue medication (blue puffer) more often – more than 3 times/week
  • Your symptoms are becoming worse and/or preventing you from fulfilling your daily activities