Respiratory illnesses can often be overlooked, especially for otherwise healthy, young individuals. With the current virus outbreak, properly caring for your respiratory system is more important than ever.
While asthma causes 70 to 90 deaths in Hong Kong every year, almost 7% of the HK population suffers from various stages of this illness1. The good news is that treatment and a long-term management plan can help tremendously in alleviating asthmatic symptoms and strengthening the respiratory system.
Whether you have been diagnosed with asthma already, or you want to learn more about the disease, this article outlines the essential information about asthma management in Hong Kong.
What is asthma?
Asthma is a respiratory condition caused by inflammation of the air passages in the lungs This affects the sensitivity of the nerve endings in the airways so they become easily irritated. In an attack, the lining of the passages swell causing the airways to narrow and reducing the flow of air in and out of the lungs.
Early stages of asthma usually cause symptoms like:
- Coughing, especially at night or during physical activity or laughing
- Tightness in chest
- Shortness of breath
Most asthma cases show symptoms in early childhood. Important clues include children who cough at night or seem to suffer from recurrent chest infections. Children with asthma are often misdiagnosed with infection. It is important that you contact a general practitioner if your little one is suffering from any of these symptoms. A general preventive consultation is also recommended for adults with any of the above issues.
Causes of asthma
Asthma and other allergic conditions (atopic conditions include asthma, excema and hay fever or nasal allergies) often run in families. If your parents suffer from respiratory conditions, it is recommended that you take extra steps to monitor your respiratory health. In fact, a health history for any allergic symptoms should be treated as a strong reason to pay attention to your breathing.
Asthma can be aggravated by infections in addition to exposure to allergens in the air. It can also be aggravated by environmental triggers, typically dry and cold air in addition to stress or emotional factors. Air quality can impact one’s ease of breathing, and the poor air quality in Hong Kong can also contribute to breathing difficulties. Seeing a doctor will help identify what is causing your breathing problems, and what steps you should be taking.
What types of asthma treatments are offered in Hong Kong?
The goal of asthma treatment is to control the disease and ensure a better quality of life. The 3 steps of effective treatment include:
Step 1: Management of asthma triggers in daily life
If you have been diagnosed with asthma, you should try your best to avoid any situations that can trigger an asthmatic attack. These triggers include:
- Viral infections
- External allergic triggers
- Smoking tobacco
- Air pollution
- Exposure to extreme weather conditions and weather changes
- Medicine, including aspirin and ibuprofen
With our busy lives, it is close to impossible to avoid these triggers completely. While some circumstances can’t be helped, such as where we live, the main focus should be eliminating allergic triggers in the bedroom. It is estimated that up to 80% of our allergic exposure can be in the bedroom. Consulting a doctor about lifestyle changes and alternatives can help to prevent asthma attacks to a large extent.
Step 2: Reactive treatment
Regular consultations with your doctor to monitor the condition of a young asthmatic patient can ensure that asthma is optimally managed. Methods of monitoring are painless and include various questionnaires as well as a Lung Function Assessment.
Symptoms which are occasional and intermittent can be managed with reactive treatment usually by inhaler
- Quick-relief medications for asthma
Quick-relief medication is the most popular way of helping increase the quality of life for asthmatic patients. This type of medicine is used after noticeable symptoms of a bronchial spasm attack, to help shorten the length of the episode. Devices for application of quick-relief medications include pressurised metered-dose inhalers, dry powder inhalers, and nebulisers. The active ingredients of your quick-relief inhaler is typically a Short-Acting Beta-Agonist (eg Ventolin). These medications work by relaxing your airway, which helps overcome the difficulty of breathing during an attack. You will feel the relief in a few minutes after inhaling, and the result will last for up to six hours. Symptoms which recur or require regular inhalations and especially symptoms occurring at night should be treated with preventative medication.
Step 3: Preventative medications
While there are many asthma medications available on the market, these are the ones that are the most popular in HK and readily available in most pharmacies:
- Controller medication for asthma
While an asthmatic condition cannot be completely eliminated, there are ways to medically control the attacks and virtually prevent them from ever coming back into your life. These medications often consist of Inhaled corticosteroids (ICS), Combination ICS/LABAs (long-acting beta-agonists), and leukotriene receptor antagonists (LTRAs).
- Many people find that their asthma is seasonal. In Hong Kong it is often worse over the Autumn and Winter with the cooler drier weather whereas the heat and humidity often brings some relief. It is also not as simple as pollution. Asthma is surprisingly not as much of an issue in Hong Kong as it tends to be in Australia, New Zealand and Canada. Countries which typically have better air quality than Hong Kong.
Where to get treatment?
Getting treatment is always preceded by a consultation with your doctor to help identify the condition. In order to diagnose whether or not a patient is suffering from asthma, doctors use a variety of tests, including breathing tests such as spirometry. Additionally, a doctor may require an X-Ray of the chest to further examine the state of the patient’s lungs.
Given the multitude of asthma triggers in our daily lives, it is important to monitor your health and develop a consistent relationship with your general practitioner or family doctor. While both public and private healthcare providers offer extensive services for managing asthma, you can learn more about the ins and outs of the Hong Kong healthcare system and how to find the right doctor in a previous post.
How can OT&P help?
The OT&P general practice clinic focuses on holistic healthcare and preventive medicine. Our practitioners are dedicated to providing the best quality of services for our patients. Our team of family doctors, general practitioners, and paediatricians are qualified to offer a personalised asthma treatment plan for you and your family.
Visit our GP service page to learn more about how we can help you on your journey to optimal long-term health.
- Hkasthma.org.hk. 2011. Asthma In Hong Kong. [online] Available at: <https://hkasthma.org.hk/en/about-asthma/asthma-hong-kong> [Accessed 29 April 2020].
- Chan, V., 2017. Management of asthma in adults – a general practitioner’s perspectives. The Hong Kong Practitioner, [online] 39(2). Available at: <http://www.hkcfp.org.hk/Upload/HK_Practitioner/2017/hkp2017vol39Jun/update_article_1.html> [Accessed 29 April 2020].
- Medlineplus.gov. 2018. Asthma - Quick-Relief Drugs : Medlineplus Medical Encyclopedia. [online] Available at: <https://medlineplus.gov/ency/patientinstructions/000008.htm> [Accessed 29 April 2020].
- Mayo Clinic. 2018. Asthma Medications: Know Your Options. [online] Available at: <https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/asthma/in-depth/asthma-medications/art-20045557> [Accessed 29 April 2020].