Don't mistake asthma for 'episodic illness'

PHOTO: Don't mistake asthma for 'episodic illness'

SINGAPORE - Asthma sufferer Pameljit Kaur suffered two heart attacks in the space of two days that nearly killed her last August.

She survived, and suffered only temporary memory loss.The 23-year-old teacher said the heart attacks occurred after she had a severe asthma attack and overdosed on Ventolin, which relaxes muscles in her airway, allowing her to breathe easier.

Ms Kaur was at work without her inhaler when she suffered an asthma attack. When she returned home, she realised that her canister of Ventolin was empty. Too out of breath and unable to walk to a nearby clinic, she waited for her brother to return with the medication.

When he finally did so, she inhaled all 200 puffs contained in the new canister at one go. Doctors usually prescribe one to two puffs of Ventolin per dose.

She was then taken to two general practitioners, who gave her even more Ventolin. She had to be rushed to hospital when she went into cardiac arrest and lost almost all her physical functions.

While at the hospital, she suffered another heart attack and had to be put on life support.

Her parents were told to pray for her recovery over the next few days and, miraculously, she pulled through.

Yesterday, Ms Kaur said that she "is taking no more risks" with her asthma condition.

In a media conference yesterday, Professor Lim Tow Keang, programme director of the Singapore National Asthma Programme, said that even though the number of patients being hospitalised for asthma has halved in recent years, "near-death" admissions continue to occur.

A study conducted between 2006 and last year recorded 26 deaths out of 386 asthma patients treated at the intensive-care units of three hospitals: Alexandra Hospital, Tan Tock Seng Hospital and National University Hospital.

Prof Lim said it is important for patients to know that the frequency of asthma attacks cannot be controlled and cited an example of patients getting used to the routine of getting up at night to administer their Ventolin dose.

"Patients try to normalise something that is not normal in their daily lives," he explained.

He said that there is a difference in the behaviour of patients with asthma compared to the behaviour of those with chronic illnesses like diabetes, because most asthma patients think asthma is an "episodic illness".

"Patients focus on symptom relief," he added.

He urged patients to switch to a combination medication such as Seretide, which relieves as well as prevents asthma attacks from happening, instead of relying on Ventolin, which provides short-term relief from asthma symptoms.

He also proposed that patients use the Asthma Control Test (ACT) to measure asthma symptoms. The ACT is a five-question assessment tool that allows doctors and patients to assess asthma control.


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