Throughout the world, 235 million people suffer from asthma, and it is considered one of the most common chronic diseases among children. The theme for this year’s World Asthma Day on May 6, 2014 is “You Can Control Your Asthma.” Health care providers will aim to help those with asthma and their friends and family to create an asthma management and prevention plan to get their chronic condition under control.

Last year’s World Asthma Day efforts were directed toward allergy awareness and education guides for physicians to help build knowledge bases for earlier allergy diagnosis. About 70 percent of asthmatics have allergies, which is why implementing an education plan for physicians is key to asthma awareness and care.

Those without asthma tend to take for granted how easy it is to breathe every day without having to worry about grabbing an inhaler or noting the weather before they walk out the door. The simple transfer of oxygen and carbon dioxide gases becomes difficult for the typical asthmatic. The gases will normally move in through the nose or mouth into the windpipe, through the airways, and expand into the lungs. However, the bronchial lining will inflame and become swollen for those with this lifelong condition.

More than 6.8 million U.S. children currently have asthma, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2010, three out of five U.S. children suffering from asthma had experienced one or more asthma attacks in a 12-month period, according to the American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology. During an asthma attack, also known as asthma exacerbation, airways become swollen and inflamed, and the muscles around the airways contract, leaving only a straw’s worth of breathing room.

Sometimes when people experience an attack, their swollen airways produce extra mucus, which only makes it rapidly more difficult to breathe. The person may wheeze, cough, and describe feeling tightness in their chest.

When an asthma attack occurs, follow the step-by-step Asthma Action Plan created by you and your doctor, and tell your close friends and relatives what to do in case of an emergency. Each plan is specially designed for each individual and depends entirely on their condition, age, and disease severity.

Follow the general steps provided by the American Lung Association:

  1. Control your asthma by recognizing your signs and symptoms. Notice your warning signs such as feeling chest tightness, wheezing, shortness of breath, coughing, congestion, and less airflow from lungs.
  2. Control your asthma by recognizing and avoiding your asthma triggers. Common asthma triggers include allergies, dust, illness, cigarette smoke and air pollution, exercise, fumes, stress, and weather conditions.
  3. Control your asthma by taking your medicine as prescribed. Follow your physician’s instructions and take your quick-relief medicines, such as an inhaler or nebulizer, which is one of the quickest and safest ways to inhale medication straight to your lungs where you need it most. Medications also come in the form of pills, powders, liquids, sprays, or shots.
  4. Control your asthma by knowing what to do in an asthma attack. It’s important not to panic, take your medicine, try to control your coughing, and seek emergency medical help if the medicine doesn’t alleviate symptoms. Always know your physician’s name and phone number in case you can’t get your asthma under control.
  5. Control your asthma by asking questions and staying informed. Understand your asthma and don’t be afraid to tell your physician your concerns.
  6. Control your asthma by having a support team. Let your family, friends, physician, nurse, classmates, and co-workers know your asthma attack plan because immediate treatment is crucial.

“If you can’t move air in and out of your lungs and you constrict that airway and you cannot get it open with pharmacological agents then it becomes a deadly disease, a fatal disease,” said Dr. James Kiley, director of the Division of Lung Diseases at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. “We’re very, very fortunate that not very many people die from asthma and we’ve been absolutely thrilled that the mortality from asthma is going down despite the fact that more people are being diagnosed with the problem.”

The severity of asthma is very much demographically influenced, as 80 percent of asthma deaths occur in low and lower-middle income countries, according to the World Health Organization.

It’s still unknown why the number of people with asthma continues to grow, with one in 12 people recorded with asthma in 2009, compared to the one in 14 in 2001 in the United States. Internationally, it is estimated that the number of people with asthma will grow by 100 million more in 2025.