(MENAFN - Khaleej Times) An asthma attack led to the death of a 56-year-old Dubai resident recently, and when it made headlines, people started asking: How fatal can asthma be and what is the best way to manage it? Doctors said that although the condition cannot be cured, its symptoms can be controlled.
Dr Jassem Abdou, head of the department of respiratory and sleep medicine and consultant for respiratory medicine at Healthpoint, said asthma ranges from 'mild' to 'very serious', and its severity can change over the course of a person's life.
"In serious cases, a severe attack could become a life-threatening emergency, therefore, it is important for it to be diagnosed by a specialist so that a plan can be put in place to manage the condition."
He said the best way to keep a check on the disease would be to get lung function tests, rather than just checking for symptoms such as wheezing, coughing, or shortness of breath.
Talking about what triggers an asthma attack, Dr Abdou said: "It depends on the type of asthma you have. The most common type, by far, is allergic asthma, where attacks are often triggered by environmental allergens such as fur, dust, pollen and mould spores.
"However, factors such as stress, common cold, medications and acid reflux can also bring on an asthma attack. The best defence against asthma is to get to know your disease. Work with your doctor to determine exactly what your triggers are so you can avoid them as far as possible."
Approximately 20 per cent of asthmatics in the UAE suffer from the severe type of the disease that is difficult to control, according to Dr Zaid Zoumot, consultant pulmonologist at the Respiratory Institute of Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi.
"Viral illnesses and other infections tend to make asthma control worse, and patients need to adjust their medications accordingly and act early to prevent severe asthma attacks," Dr Zoumot said.
"It is absolutely essential that patients take their medications as prescribed by their doctors even when they are feeling well. They must seek medical attention early in the course of any asthma attack."
Doctors agreed that allergic asthma is the most common - and, perhaps, the 'most traditional' form of the condition.
Patients who have it often have coexisting allergies in the skin (eczema or dermatitis) and nasal passages and may have nasal polyps and rhinitis.
Dr Zoumot said that in the UAE, exposure to dust and sandstorms, air pollution, bakhour or incense smoke, and tobacco smoke can also trigger asthma.
"There is a newly identified form of asthma that is associated with obesity and affects mostly - but not exclusively - middle-aged women. Another form of asthma, which develops later in life, is thought to be associated with repeated bacterial infections. Long-term smokers can develop asthma after years of smoking, sometimes in combination with chronic bronchitis and emphysema," he added.
Dr Zoumot said every patient's asthma is different, hence, a treatment plan must be individually tailored.
"A comprehensive history and allergy assessment can help identify triggers, and avoiding them is key. A detailed evaluation of a patient's asthma will allow the physician to offer the most appropriate treatments and avoid any medication that is unlikely to help.
"The first step is to use inhalers as needed. But if the symptoms are more frequent than three times a week or are waking the patient up at night more than once a week, then the treatment needs to be escalated and the patient should be using inhalers on a daily basis."
He added that regular reasessments are also a must.