ONE in 11 Filipinos have asthma, a chronic lung condition in which the airways swell and narrow. Knowing one’s triggers and proper breathing technique can prevent symptoms such as shortness of breath, wheezing upon inhalation, or chest tightness.

“It’s the swelling that gives rise to the symptoms,” said Dr. Jonray R. Magallanes, an adult pulmonologist. “Parang sinasakal [It’s like you’re being choked]; that’s how patients describe it.”

The secret to managing asthma, he said, is to know how to breathe properly through aerosolized medications such as an inhaler. Inhaled corticosteroids and combination inhalers are the cornerstone of long-term asthma treatment 

“Aerosolized medications directly target the lungs, thus eliminating the need for the body to absorb it,” he said in a May 7 lecture organized by Mercury Drug Corporation. “People also need only a minimal dose to feel relief from their symptoms.”  

The two common types of inhalers are the pressurized metered dose inhaler, and the dry-powder inhaler. To use the former, shake it several times, seal your lips around it, and then start inhaling as you begin pressing down the canister.  

“Inhale slowly,” Dr. Magallanes said, “and then hold your breath for 5 to 6 seconds before exhaling in your nose.”

The proper technique for a dry-powder inhaler, on the other hand, is quick and forceful.

“Don’t shake it because the powder might spill,” said Dr. Magallanes in the vernacular. “Ask your doctor, nurse, or pharmacist how to use your dry-powder inhaler, because some only need to be opened, whereas some need to be cocked [like a gun].”

He added that asthma is well-controlled in a patient if they do not manifest the following more than twice a week: daytime symptoms; night-time wakefulness; activity limitation; and medication reliance.

The cause of asthma is not known, although factors such as genetics, allergies, and the environment play a role. Mayo Clinic lists some of the triggers that can flare up symptoms in an asthmatic individual: chemical fumes (as in occupational asthma), dust (as in allergy-induced asthma), and cold air (as in exercise-induced asthma).  

If you have frequent coughing or wheezing that persists for more than two weeks, consult a doctor, Dr. Magallanes said.

“You don’t even need to see a specialist,” he added. “A family doctor, a doctor to the barrios… they all know how to treat asthma.”

May 3 was World Asthma Day. — Patricia B. Mirasol