Asthma is a serious condition in which the small airways of the affected person's lungs suddenly constrict when they are exposed to certain triggers, such as dust mites, pollen, exercise, or even dry air.
During an asthma ‘attack', the person's airway lining rapidly becomes inflamed and swollen, the muscles around the airways tighten, and excess mucus is produced as the body reacts to the trigger. This reaction causes reduced airflow into and out of the lungs, and the person has to gasp for breath.
Asthma is a major public health problem affecting 52 million people around the world, including 2 million Australians and 15 million Americans. The disease is usually life-long and each year claims around 400 lives in Australia and 4,500 lives in the US. Recent studies have shown that the incidence of asthma in Australian children is increasing.
The disease has a major impact on the quality of life of asthmatics and their families, with many sufferers requiring daily medication and modifications in their lifestyle. In addition to the human price, asthma is a major component of the cost of the healthcare system. For example, the cost to the US healthcare system is in excess of US$15 billion per year.
The effective diagnosis, monitoring and management of asthma remain key challenges for doctors and asthmatics. The primary method currently used to diagnose asthma has remained unchanged for many years, with a diagnosis arrived at through a detailed history and physical examination of the patient.
Much of the deterioration in the quality of life of asthma sufferers could be prevented through correct early diagnosis of the disease, appropriate treatment, and effective ongoing monitoring.