Danger if asthma dismissed as just having 'sensitive nose'

Mr Muhammad Rusydi (above) was given two types of medication - one to be used on a regular basis to keep his airways open, and one for use in case of a sudden asthma attack. He said he previously did not comply with regular therapy as prescribed.
Mr Muhammad Rusydi (above) was given two types of medication - one to be used on a regular basis to keep his airways open, and one for use in case of a sudden asthma attack. He said he previously did not comply with regular therapy as prescribed.ST PHOTO: NEO XIAOBIN
Mr Muhammad Rusydi was given two types of medication - one to be used on a regular basis to keep his airways open, and one for use in case of a sudden asthma attack (above, right). He said he previously did not comply with regular therapy as prescrib
Mr Muhammad Rusydi was given two types of medication - one to be used on a regular basis to keep his airways open, and one for use in case of a sudden asthma attack (above, right). He said he previously did not comply with regular therapy as prescribed.ST PHOTO: NEO XIAOBIN

Crucial to see doctor as symptoms of asthma attack and allergic rhinitis are similar: Expert

Wheezing, coughing, and feeling breathless may sound like the tell-tale signs of an asthma attack.

But these symptoms are also experienced by those who suffer from allergic rhinitis - more commonly known as having a "sensitive nose".

Indeed, a Changi General Hospital (CGH) study of 274 young people with these symptoms has found that nearly a third of them had allergic rhinitis. The other two-thirds were confirmed as having asthma.

Due to the similar symptoms of an asthma attack and allergic rhinitis, one could sometimes mistakenly dismiss the condition as just having a "sensitive nose". This points to the importance of seeing a doctor when one suffers from such symptoms, said Adjunct Associate Professor Augustine Tee, ahead of World Asthma Day that takes place on the first Tuesday of May, which is today.

"These things are intermittent and, between them, patients may think that they are feeling well," said Dr Tee, who heads the respiratory and critical care medicine department at CGH. "But if asthma is left untreated over many years, attacks may become more frequent."

In the latest National Health Survey, which was conducted in 2010, experts found that asthma was most common in those aged between 18 and 29 - the youngest age group covered by that survey. Dr Tee and his team therefore decided to look at patients aged even younger, between 12 and 20.

They had all shown symptoms typical of asthma attacks, and were referred to CGH by primary care doctors in private practice or at polyclinics for further testing between February last year and January this year.

While some had had the condition from childhood, others had no history of asthma until recently.

Dr Tee said there are many young adults who have never been properly diagnosed, and who tend to self-medicate. For instance, they buy over-the-counter cough syrup to help them cope when symptoms surface.

This could put them in danger if a sudden attack comes on and they have no proper medication on hand, he said.

He stressed that many of those who already know that they have asthma also tend to disregard regular treatment, seeing a doctor only when they have a serious attack and need immediate help.

"They don't comply with regular therapy, and that is something that worries us," Dr Tee said. "Asthma treatment is grounded on prevention."

Mr Muhammad Rusydi Mohamed Said, a 23-year-old polytechnic student, said he used to be that way himself.

He was given two types of medication - one to be used on a regular basis to keep his airways open, and one for use in case of a sudden asthma attack.

"Last time I was too lazy to use the first (medication)," he recalled. "However, after I tried it for a few days, I could feel that I wasn't getting breathless so easily."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 03, 2016, with the headline 'Danger if asthma dismissed as just having 'sensitive nose''. Print Edition | Subscribe