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Asthma Awareness Month – Busting Asthma Myths

n a bid to further educate South Africans on asthma to avoid unnecessary deaths, the Allergy Foundation of South Africa (AFSA) is busting five harmful myths about the disease!

Myth 1: It’s better to ‘tough it out’ without taking asthma medication.

The lungs do not get stronger or become better able to deal with asthma if a person tries to work through an attack without medication. In fact, the lung inflammation that goes along with an attack can cause permanent damage to the lungs. Always use medication to treat asthma.

Myth 2: Sports and physical activity make asthma worse.
Physical activity, and the health benefits that come with it, should be part of everyone’s life, including those with asthma. Asthma should not interfere with physical activity and if you are having problems with exercise it means your asthma is not well controlled and you need to check that you are taking the right medications, and with the best possible technique.

Myth 3:
 Asthma can be treated with alternative medicines.
Asthma is caused by inflammation in the lungs. No alternative, folk or traditional medicines can treat inflammation. If you do feel that alternative medicines help your asthma, keep on using your controller pumps as well, to make sure that the inflammation doesn’t come back.

Myth 4: Asthma pumps are dangerous.
Many scientific studies have shown asthma medications to be safe over long periods of use. Asthma pumps do not weaken the heart and are not addictive.

The corticosteroids in asthma medicines are not the same as the often-illegal steroids used by some athletes and have no effect on muscles or athletic performance. They are related to the steroids found in creams to reduce itch or inflammation of the skin.

Myth 5: If my asthma medication is not helping, I need to increase my dose.
Asthma devices are difficult to use. Even with the best technique possible, only a small amount of the medication gets into the lungs. Most problems with asthma are not because the person has been prescribed the wrong medication but because they are not using them as often as they should or with the best possible technique.  

Ground-breaking asthma treatment device available in SA
The Allergy Foundation of South Africa (AFSA) advises that it is really hard to use inhaled asthma medicines with the best possible technique and that when using an asthma pump (metered dose inhaler) most of the spray hits the back of the throat, with only 9% of the medication actually reaching the lungs. 

The good news for South African asthma sufferers is that a revolutionary device called the AfriSpacer™, which makes inhalation of medication from an asthma pump easier and far more effective, has been launched by AFSA.

“The AfriSpacer™ is a device that slows the speed of the spray from an asthma pump and successfully directs more medication into the lungs,” explains Professor Mike Levin, CEO of the Allergy Foundation of South Africa (AFSA), and Head of the Paediatric Asthma and Allergy Division at the Red Cross Children’s Hospital.

“Using the AfriSpacer™ allows 1.7 times more medicine to reach the lungs – making it more effective than a home nebuliser, or dry powder inhaler. A spacer is basically a chamber filled with air, with the asthma pump fitting into the back.  When you spray the pump inside the chamber and then breathe this air into your lungs, the spray has time to go into the deepest part of the lungs where it is needed the most.”

“It is conservatively estimated that 80% of asthma deaths could be prevented with better treatment,” says Professor Levin. “It is for this reason that we are so excited to be launching the AfriSpacer™.”

How it started – a humble cooldrink bottle became a life-saving device
The origins of the AfriSpacer™ device began several years ago when Professor Heather Zar, a paediatric pulmonologist and head of the Department of Paediatrics and Child Health at the Red Cross Children’s Hospital, created a homemade spacer from a plastic cooldrink bottle after she witnessed the inadequate treatment that asthmatic children were receiving due to the high cost of the asthma spacers. Her innovative design earned Professor Zar the World Lung Health Award from the American Thoracic Society – a first for a paediatrician, and the first time anyone from Africa had won the award.

This pioneering plastic bottle prototype then went on to be further developed, honed, and refined into the AfriSpacer™ by a dedicated team of biomedical engineering alumni working under the guidance of Professor Levin.

The AfriSpacer™ is available to purchase from June at national Spar Pharmacies, Local Choice Pharmacies, Alphen Wholesaler Pharmacies, and on the AFSA website’s shop at https://allergyfoundation.co.za/shop/afrispacer-and-afrivalve/.

The AfriSpacer™ sells for R90 (claimable from medical aids) and proceeds go to the Allergy Foundation of South Africa to help fund their ongoing efforts in asthma and allergy research, training, patient awareness and education, support and care.  

For more information about the AfriSpacer™, asthma, and the Allergy Foundation South Africa visit www.allergyfoundation.co.za, or contact them on 081 405 8442 or email info@allergyfoundation.co.za. Follow @SAallergy on Instagram and Twitter @SAallergy and Facebook @SAallergy.