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Asthma Facts

If you have asthma, you are not alone.  About 2.4 million Canadians have asthma, including top NHL hockey players and Olympic athletes.  In fact, about 300 million people around the world have asthma.  One out of every five Ontario children has asthma.


What Do Our Lungs Do?

In case you don’t know already, asthma affects your lungs.  The main reason you have lungs is to breathe in oxygen that your body always needs. Your lungs also breathe out carbon dioxide which your body always needs to remove.

You have two lungs inside your chest cage just behind your ribs.  When you breathe in, air goes through your nose or mouth then straight down your windpipe.  At the bottom of the windpipe, the air takes a right and left turn.  About half of the air goes into your right lung, and half goes into your left lung.

In each lung, the air goes through a series of tubes called airways.  These airways branch off into smaller and smaller airways like the branches of a tree. The smallest airways are smaller than the width of a pin.

At the end of these smallest of airways, there are tiny balloons that look like a bunch of grapes.  These are called alveoli.  It is in the alveoli where the oxygen is taken from the air and moved to the rest of your body.

What Is Asthma?

If you have asthma, three things can happen to your airways:

      1. The inside lining of your airways can get thicker and red.
      2. Mucus (thick fluid) can build up inside your airways.
      3. Tiny muscles that surround your airways can tighten up.

      All these three things can make the opening of your airways smaller.  When the opening is smaller, it is harder to get the air into and out of your lungs.





      Normal Airway





      Airway with Uncontrolled Asthma

      When your airways are like this, you might:

          • Feel short of breath (hard to breathe)

          • Have a tight feeling in your chest (like a rubber band around your lungs)

          • Cough

          • Wheeze (whistling sound usually when you breathe out)

      How Do I Take Care Of My Asthma?

      It is important to take care of your asthma so that your lungs stay healthy and always work well. There are two main things that can be done to help keep your asthma under control.  Stay away from the things that make your asthma worse, and take any needed medicines (usually puffers) as you are supposed to.

      The things that can make your asthma worse are called triggers. Common triggers include:

          • Pets - such as cats, dogs, gerbils, hamsters, rabbits, mice, etc.

          • Smoke – from cigarettes – always stay away from smoke

          • Dust Mites - which live in beds, carpets and furniture

          • Pollen – particles from trees, grass, plants

          • Moulds – found in damp areas like the basement, bathroom and outdoors in leaves

          • Colds and the Flu – they make you cough and sneeze, but they can also make your asthma worse

          • Air Pollution – usually worse in the summer months

      Everyone with asthma has different triggers.  Although you can’t always stay away from all your triggers, it is good to try your best.

      There are different kinds of asthma medicines.  A lot of them come in puffers, or inhalers.  There are also pills that you swallow.  With puffers, you breathe the medicine right into your lungs.

      One type of medicine is called a “controller” medicine.  These are taken every single day, usually twice a day, even when you are feeling well.  They don’t work quickly but they keep your lungs healthy over time.

      The other type of medicine is called a “reliever” or “rescue” medicine, which is usually a blue puffer.  These are taken when you are having problems with your asthma, such as coughing, difficulty breathing, wheezing or a tight feeling in your chest. They are also sometimes taken before you exercise.

      Asthma medicines are good for you because they help to keep your airways clear so that air can easily move through them.  And when air moves easily through your lungs, you can run around just like everyone else.

      Quick Facts

          • People yawn when the oxygen level in their body gets a little low.  This signals the brain to make you yawn to get more air into your lungs.

          • Air is mainly made up of 21% oxygen and 78% nitrogen.

          • Kids take about 30,000 breaths every single day. That’s about 11 million every year!

          • There are 300 million alveoli in your lungs.  If you laid them all out on the ground they would cover a tennis court!