Exercise Your Right to Breathe

National Asthma Council Australia

Imagine breathing through a drinking straw; your body would soon be starved for oxygen. Over time, this would cause your muscles to become weaker and your heart to work harder distributing oxygen from the lungs into the blood stream. Depending on factors such as age, an asthma attack that lasts for an extended period can cause death.

Understanding Asthma is helped when one understands how the body’s airways work. In a nutshell, an airway is a tube that is lined with cells and muscles – picture a garden hose. The cells within the airways can produce mucus and the muscles that line the outside of the airways are often very useful in a healthy individual when the mucus needs to be cleared from the inside of the tube.

The onset of Asthma arises when a particular individual has airways that are sensitive to certain stimuli, and when triggered it will cause the muscles in the airways to contract and the cells to produce mucus. This reaction causes the aforementioned symptoms.

While it might be tempting to blame it all on the mucus, the fact is that our bodies do need this substance, which is made up of protein and water. Its job is to snare irritants that we breathe in such as bacteria, viruses and allergens. From there, the muscles sweep it into the back of our throat where it is swallowed or cleared away by coughing or sneezing.

There is no cure for asthma, and those who have it may be plagued by symptoms their entire lives. Symptoms can flare up in response to certain triggers, including dust, cigarette smoke, chemicals, changes in weather, and even exercise. Though there is no cure, today there are a variety of treatments available that can help individuals manage the disease. The best cure we have today is being able to understand the disease and how to manage it so that it doesn’t prevent us from truly living.

National Asthma Council Australia dedicates itself to helping people with this disease manage and navigate it. The organisation achieves this by providing educational resources – not just about the disease itself but about things that people can do and products that they can use in their everyday lives that will allow them to lead happier, healthier and more fulfilling lives.

NAC has been around for around 22 years, and was originally formed because the number of asthma related deaths had become unacceptably high within the country. “Arguably, any number is unacceptable, but the management of asthma was poor by people with the condition,” explains Adam Trumble, Partnerships Manager for NAC. “Since the not-for-profit organisation was founded, the number of deaths has dropped substantially.”

To be certain, this reduction was also influenced by advancements in treatment, but sometimes there is simply no substitute for a hand extended to help a person in need to find the valuable information that will lead to the successful management of their disease.

“What we do is produce the handbook that contains the guidelines for managing asthma for health professionals,” explains Adam. “That’s the main document, but we also produce a lot of other information pertaining to the issues around asthma and allergies. Usually, for example, if we create a brochure on hay fever, we will do one aimed at healthcare professionals as well as a simplified version for the general public.” The brochures developed by NAC are available online at http://www.nationalasthma.org.au.

As we speak, the organisation is taking submissions from product manufacturers in hopes to find brands well-suited for its new Sensitive Choice program. What this program does is acknowledge household products that have been tested and have been proven to be better choices for use in the homes of people who have asthma or allergies. Brands such as Aaxis Pacific Baby Products or Dyson Vacuum Cleaners will sport NAC’s Sensitive Choice Blue Butterfly Logo, which is there to tell consumers that the product has attributes that make it better for use in the homes of people who suffer from the disease. For more information about brands that have been tested and accepted into the Sensitive Choice Program please visit http://www.sensitivechoice.com.au.

According to Adam, “People who have asthma usually have allergies that trigger their asthma such as dust mites, pollen or mould spores. The products that are approved often have some property that is intended to suppress those triggers. For example with dust mites, pretty much every bed is going to have dust mites in it, because the climate in the bed is conducive to dust mites and the occupants of the bed are shedding skin flakes. So the approved products will have some sort of treatment that suppresses dust mites, or there might be a protective layer that prevents the transmission of the allergens from the mattress to the person.”

Many of these products can actually be healthy choices even for individuals without asthma or allergies, as their conventional counterparts are often big polluters of the indoor air. For instance, a brand new carpet, even though it is dry and attractive to the eyes, may actually emit volatile organic compounds and small particulate substances. This goes for most conventionally produced furniture, plastics, vinyl products, paint, new cars, clothing, cosmetics, water bottles, rugs and mattresses.

These substances can irritate the respiratory systems of anyone, or induce headaches or nausea. That ‘new car smell’ inside the brand new SUV parked in the driveway, in fact is just a cocktail of chemical compounds that have been used during the production of the vehicle; some tests have demonstrated that these chemicals within a new vehicle are 35 times the amount that should be ingested by any one human within a day.

So, next time you need a new product that is going to be used and loved by anyone special, there is no harm in looking for the blue butterfly to minimise health risks.

When NAC is taking a product into consideration, the team submits it to an independent panel called the Product Advisory Panel that looks mainly for two things: the panel must be sure that the product will do no harm; and the product must have some relevant merit for people with asthma or allergies.

According to http://www.sensitivechoice.com.au, the general aims of the program are four-fold: to educate Australians and New Zealanders about the importance of managing their asthma; to encourage manufacturers and suppliers to produce products and services that are asthma and allergy friendly and that could benefit people with asthma and allergies; to provide you and your family with a way of identifying products and services that may benefit people with asthma and/or allergies and improve your health and wellbeing; and to generate sponsorship funds to enable both Australian and New Zealand asthma organisations to continue their work in improving asthma care.

Do you or someone you know suffer from seemingly unmanageable asthma and perhaps need a helping hand? Please visit www.nationalasthma.org.au, or for more information on the sensitive choice program, go to www.sensitivechoice.com.au.

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December 19, 2018, 5:30 PM AEDT