Tuesday is World Asthma Day (WAD) and the theme will be "You Can Control Your Asthma," continuing the focus on the positive theme introduced for WAD 2007 and consistent with the emphasis on asthma control set out in the latest versions of guideline documents. In addition, on WAD 2011, The Global Initiative for Asthma (GINA) will launch the next phase of its campaign to reduce asthma hospitalizations 50% worldwide by 2015. This builds on the "You Can Control Your Asthma" theme, as better asthma control means fewer hospitalizations.

Each year GINA chooses a theme and organizes preparation and distribution of World Asthma Day materials and resources. World Asthma Day activities are organized in each country by health care professionals, educators, and members of the public who want to help reduce the burden of asthma.

The first World Asthma Day, in 1998, was celebrated in more than 35 countries in conjunction with the first World Asthma Meeting held in Barcelona, Spain. Participation has increased with each World Asthma Day held since then, and the day has become one of the world's most important asthma awareness and education events.

According to the World Health Organization 235 million people suffer from asthma, and asthma is the most common chronic disease among children.

Asthma is not just a public health problem for high income countries: it occurs in all countries regardless of level of development. Over 80% of asthma deaths occur in low and lower-middle income countries.

Asthma is under-diagnosed and under-treated, creating a substantial burden to individuals and families and possibly restricting individuals' activities for a lifetime.

During an asthma attack, the lining of the bronchial tubes swell, causing the airways to narrow and reducing the flow of air into and out of the lungs. Recurrent asthma symptoms frequently cause sleeplessness, daytime fatigue, reduced activity levels and school and work absenteeism. Asthma has a relatively low fatality rate compared to other chronic diseases.

Sometimes, asthma symptoms are mild and go away on their own or after minimal treatment with an asthma medicine. Other times, symptoms continue to get worse. When symptoms get more intense and/or more symptoms occur, you're having an asthma attack. Asthma attacks also are called flare-ups or exacerbations.

It's important to treat symptoms when you first notice them. This will help prevent the symptoms from worsening and causing a severe asthma attack. Severe asthma attacks may require emergency care, and they can be fatal.

Sources: The World Health Organization and World Asthma Day

Written by Sy Kraft