Asthma & Lung Health


Your pharmacist can help you understand your asthma medicines and get the most benefit from them.

Fact #1

All adults and children with asthma-like symptoms need careful assessment by a doctor to rule out the possibility of other illnesses and make the right diagnosis.

Fact #2

It is essential for each person with asthma to get individualised treatment that is right for them.

Fact #3

An asthma ‘attack’ can be life-threatening – even for a person whose asthma is normally well controlled or whose symptoms are normally mild.

Fact #4

There is no cure for asthma, but most people with asthma can lead normal active lives if their asthma is managed well.

Fact #5

Your pharmacist can help you understand your asthma medicines and get the most benefit from them.

  • What is asthma? What is asthma?

    What is asthma?

    Asthma is a disease of the small tubes (airways) that carry air through the lungs. People with asthma have sensitive airways that become narrower than usual from time to time, making it hard to breathe.

    Airways can become narrow when:

    • the muscle layer around the airway tightens, constricting the tube
    • the inner lining of the airways becomes swollen
    • excess mucus inside of the airways takes up space.


    People with asthma or allergies in their family have a higher chance of developing asthma, but anyone can develop it. Asthma is a long-term disease. If you have asthma, you still have asthma at times when you don’t have any symptoms. In children, asthma often improves as they grow up.

  • Symptoms of asthma Symptoms of asthma

    Symptoms of asthma

    The most common asthma symptoms are:

    • shortness of breath (breathlessness) from time to time
    • wheezing (a high-pitched sound coming from the chest while breathing out)
    • a feeling of tightness in the chest
    • coughing (with other asthma symptoms).


    A person with asthma might not have all these symptoms. Many people with asthma have symptoms at night or early morning more often than at other times. Asthma symptoms can improve or worsen from time to time. Someone with well-controlled asthma might not have any symptoms for a long time. A flare-up of asthma symptoms is often called an ‘asthma attack’, especially if it happens suddenly.

  • How asthma is diagnosed? How asthma is diagnosed?

    How asthma is diagnosed?

    There is no single test to tell if a person has asthma or not. To diagnose asthma, doctors use a combination of the person’s symptoms (including in the past), family medical history, physical examination and airway testing (also called lung function testing). Doctors may also order allergy tests.

  • Triggers for asthma symptoms Triggers for asthma symptoms

    Triggers for asthma symptoms

    People with asthma have sensitive airways that can react to changes in the air. Individuals’ asthma symptoms can be set off by different triggers.

    Asthma triggers can include:

    • exercise
    • respiratory infections (e.g. colds and flu)
    • cigarette smoke
    • allergies (e.g. dust mites, pollens, animal fur and saliva)
    • cold air
    • indoor and outdoor air pollution (e.g. smoke, fumes, dusts and chemicals)
    • some medicines.

    Over time you will learn which factors trigger your asthma. Some you may need to avoid completely (e.g. other people’s cigarette smoke, or an animal you are allergic to). Your may need to plan for others (e.g. exercise).

    Ask your doctor how to prevent symptoms when you are physically active so you can enjoy a healthy lifestyle.

  • Asthma facts Asthma facts

    Asthma facts

    For Children:

    • Wheezing is very common in young children, and doesn’t always mean a child has asthma or will develop asthma.
    • For many children, asthma gets better as they grow up, especially if there is no asthma or allergies in the family. Many preschool children who are diagnosed with asthma will not have asthma by school age, and many school children with asthma will not have symptoms as adults – but it is not possible to predict what will happen for an individual child.
    • Asthma is difficult to diagnosis with certainty in young children.
    • Many young children with asthma don’t need regular asthma medicines. Symptoms can often be managed with puffers when needed.
    • Children with asthma or possible asthma symptoms need regular check-ups to make sure their diagnosis and treatment plan are right.

     Important: See a doctor if you think your child could have asthma, or if your child has unusual breathing or unexplained cough.


    For Adults: 

    • Adults can develop asthma, even if they didn’t have asthma as children.
    • Being obese can make asthma harder to control, and might also increase the chance of developing asthma.
    • Some people develop asthma after developing a reaction to a substance in the air at their workplace.
    • Many adults with asthma need to take regular asthma medicines to keep good control of symptoms and reduce their risk of flare-ups.

    Important: See a doctor if you think you could have asthma, or if you have unusual breathing, breathing problems or unexplained cough.

  • Asthma medicines Asthma medicines

    Asthma medicines

    Each person’s asthma medicines need to be carefully adjusted from time to time. Don’t wait until your symptoms worsen to visit your doctor.

    Regular asthma check-ups are important to keep asthma symptoms under control and to minimise the risk of flare-ups or unwanted effects of treatment. At times when your asthma is worsening you may need higher doses of your usual medicines or extra medicines to bring asthma symptoms back under control. The main types of asthma medicines are relievers and preventers. Many asthma medicines are inhaled through the mouth using an inhaler (sometimes called ‘puffer’), so that the medicine gets straight to the airways. Some asthma medicines are swallowed.

    If you have any questions about your medicines, ask your doctor or pharmacist.



    Relievers provide fast, short-term symptom relief when you experience asthma symptoms. They may also be recommended for use before exercise. If you use your reliever more than twice a week (not counting doses taken before exercise), your asthma is not well controlled and you may need a preventer.



    Preventers reduce the risk of an asthma flare-up, ‘attack’ or emergency. They are used every day – even when you have no symptoms of asthma. Preventers are the key to good asthma control. Stopping your preventer usually results in a return of symptoms – often within days or weeks. If your preventer is working properly, you shouldn’t need to use your reliever very often. Some inhaled preventers combine two medicines in the same inhaler.

  • Are you getting the most out of your inhaler? Are you getting the most out of your inhaler?

    Are you getting the most out of your inhaler?

    Inhalers must be used correctly to get the right amount of medicine to the airways. Each type of inhaler has its own instructions. Gadgets are available to help people who have trouble using some types of inhalers.

    Ask your pharmacist or doctor to check your inhaler technique, to make sure you are getting the full benefit from your asthma medicines.

    Watch the National Asthma Council videos to see the correct way to use different inhaler types (

  • Is your asthma under control? Is your asthma under control?

    Is your asthma under control?

    These are some of the signs that asthma is not well controlled:

    • You have asthma symptoms (e.g. wheezing, chest tightness, shortness of breath) at night or when you wake up.
    • You need to use your reliever more than two or three times a week because of symptoms.
    • Your asthma symptoms are restricting your day-to-day activities.
    • You sometimes have days off work or school because of asthma symptoms.
    • You sometimes have asthma flare-ups or ‘attacks’.

     If you have any of these, you should visit your doctor for an asthma check-up.

  • Do you have your own written asthma action plan? Do you have your own written asthma action plan?

    Do you have your own written asthma action plan?

    When you or your child has asthma it is important to recognise worsening symptoms and to know what to do to prevent an asthma attack or emergency.

    Everyone with asthma should have their own written asthma action plan. It will explain:

    • what to do when you are well, including your usual medicines
    • what to do when you have asthma symptoms
    • what to do when asthma is getting worse
    • how to recognise danger signs and what to do.


    Written asthma action plans can be based on symptoms or peak flow testing. Your asthma action plan should be checked and updated regularly by your doctor.

  • Asthma first aid Asthma first aid

    Asthma first aid

    If a person is not breathing normally:

    1. Sit the person upright. Try to keep them calm. Do not leave them alone.
    2. Give four separate puffs of a reliever medicine (blue/grey inhaler). Get them to take four breaths after each puff. Shake puffer first and use a spacer if there is one available. 6–8 puffs can be used for an adult with a severe attack
    3. Wait four minutes
    4. If the person is still not breathing normally repeat steps 2 and 3
    5. If the person is still not breathing normally CALL AN AMBULANCE IMMEDIATELY (DIAL 000). Say that the person is having an asthma attack.
    6. Keep repeating steps 2 and 3 until the ambulance arrives.


    This first aid information was adapted from

  • Peak flow testing Peak flow testing

    Peak flow testing

    Your doctor may ask you to test your airways using a peak flow meter. A peak flow meter is a small hand-held device that measures how fast a person can push out air from their lungs (peak expiratory flow rate). Measuring peak expiratory flow regularly (e.g. morning and evening every day) can help track improvement or worsening of asthma symptoms.

    If you are using a peak flow meter you need to know your personal best score. To find your personal best score, test your peak flows at home every day for about two weeks and then discuss the results with your doctor.

    Peak flow is just one measure of lung health. If you feel a worsening of your asthma symptoms – even if your peak flow readings are normal – follow your asthma action plan or contact your doctor.

  • Additional Resources