Asthma is a chronic disease involving the airways in the lungs. These airways, or bronchial tubes, allow air to come in and out of the lungs.
If you have asthma your airways are always inflamed. They become even more swollen and the muscles around the airways can tighten when something triggers your symptoms. This makes it difficult for air to move in and out of the lungs, causing symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath and/or chest tightness.
For many asthma sufferers, timing of these symptoms is closely related to physical activity. And, some otherwise healthy people can develop asthma symptoms only when exercising. Staying active is an important way to stay healthy, so asthma shouldn’t keep you on the sidelines. Your physician can develop a management plan to keep your symptoms under control before, during and after physical activity.
People with a family history of allergies or asthma are more prone to developing asthma. Many people with asthma also have allergies. This is called allergic asthma.
Occupational asthma is caused by inhaling fumes, gases, dust or other potentially harmful substances while on the job.
There is no cure for asthma, but once it is properly diagnosed and a treatment plan is in place you will be able to manage your condition, and your quality of life will improve.
Asthma Symptoms & Diagnosis
According to the leading experts in asthma, the symptoms of asthma and best treatment for you may quite different than for someone else with asthma.
The most common symptom is wheezing. This is a scratchy or whistling sound when you breathe. Other symptoms include:
- Shortness of breath
- Chest tightness or pain
- Chronic coughing
- Trouble sleeping due to coughing or wheezing
Asthma symptoms, also called asthma flare-ups or asthma attacks, are often caused by allergies and exposure to allergens such as pet dander, dust mites, pollen or mold. Non-allergic triggers include smoke, pollution or cold air or changes in weather.
Asthma symptoms may be worse during exercise, when you have a cold or during times of high stress.
If you have one or more of these common symptoms, make an appointment with Ocean Pulmonary Associates:
- Coughing that is constant or that is made worse by viral infections, happens while you sleep, or is triggered by exercise and cold air
- Wheezing or whistling sound when you exhale
- Shortness of breath or rapid breathing, which may be associated with exercise
- Chest tightness
- Problems sleeping due to coughing or difficulty breathing
Patterns in asthma symptoms are important and can help your doctor make a diagnosis. Pay attention to when symptoms occur:
- At night or early morning
- During or after exercise
- During certain seasons
- After laughing or crying
- When exposed to common asthma triggers
At Ocean Pulmonary Associates we will diagnosis asthma and other diseases of the lungs by taking a thorough medical history and performing breathing tests to measure how well your lungs work.
One of these tests is called spirometry. You will take a deep breath and blow into a sensor to measure the amount of air your lungs can hold and the speed of the air you inhale or exhale. This test diagnoses asthma severity and measures how well treatment is working.
Asthma Treatment & Management
There is no cure for asthma, but symptoms can be controlled with effective asthma treatment and management. This involves taking your medications as directed and learning to avoid triggers that cause your asthma symptoms. Your pulmonologist will prescribe the best medications for your condition and provide you with specific instructions for using them.
People with asthma are at risk of developing complications from respiratory infections such as influenza and pneumonia. That is why it is important for asthma sufferers, especially adults, to get vaccinated annually.
With proper treatment and an asthma management plan you can minimize your symptoms and enjoy a better quality of life.
Asthma and Exercise: Tips to Remember
Do you cough, wheeze and have a tight chest or shortness of breath when you exercise?
If yes, you may have exercise induced asthma. This happens when the tubes that bring air into and out of your lungs narrow with exercise, causing symptoms of asthma.
An estimated 300 million people worldwide suffer from asthma, according to the World Health Organization, and strenuous exercise makes it worse for many people. Some people with EIB do not otherwise have asthma, and people with allergies may also have trouble breathing during exercise.
If you have exercise induced Asthma, you may have problems breathing within five to 20 minutes after exercise. Your symptoms may include:
- Tight chest
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain (rarely)
People with exercise induced asthma are very sensitive to both low temperatures and dry air. Air is usually warmed and humidified by the nose, but during demanding activity people breathe more through their mouths. This allows cold, dry air to reach your lower airways and your lungs without passing through your nose, triggering asthma symptoms. Air pollutants, high pollen levels and viral respiratory infections may also be triggers. Other causes of symptoms with exercise may be that you are out of shape, have poorly controlled nasal allergies or vocal cord issues.
Wheezing or tightness in your chest can be serious, so let your physician know about your symptoms. Your physician can help you by:
- Getting your health history
- Doing a breathing test (called spirometry) at rest
- Doing a follow-up exercise challenge test
If your breathing test shows that you might have asthma, your physician may give you a drug to inhale such as albuterol. If your breathing test numbers improve after inhaling the medicine, then the diagnosis of asthma is more likely.
The first step is to develop a treatment plan with your pulmonologist. Exercise induced asthma is associated with more generalized asthma is prevented with controller medications taken regularly (such as mast cell stabilizers, inhaled steroids and leukotriene modifiers) or by using medicines before you exercise (short-acting beta-agonists such as albuterol). When these symptoms occur, they can be treated with short-acting medications.
In addition to medications, warm-ups and cool-downs may prevent or lessen your symptoms. You may want to limit exercise when you have a viral infection, temperatures are low, or pollen and air pollution levels are high.
The goal of an asthma treatment plan is to keep your symptoms under control so that you can enjoy exercising or sports activities. However, there are some activities that are better for people with exercise induced asthma. For instance, swimmers are exposed to warm, moist air as they exercise, which does not tend to trigger asthma symptoms. Swimming also helps strengthen upper body muscles.
Walking, leisure biking and hiking are also good sporting activities for people with this condition. Team sports that require short bursts of energy, such as baseball, football and short-term track and field are less likely to cause symptoms than sports that have a lot of ongoing activity such as soccer, basketball, field hockey or long-distance running.
Cold weather activities such as cross-country skiing and ice hockey are more likely to make symptoms worse, but with proper diagnosis and treatment, many people with exercise induced asthma can participate and excel in almost any sport or activity.
When to see a pulmonologist
One of the first steps to controlling Asthma is finding the right help. The physicians at Ocean Pulmonary Associates can help figure out the cause of your symptoms and develop a treatment plan that can keep you exercising. You should see a pulmonologist if you have:
- Exercise-induced symptoms that are unusual or do not respond well to treatment
- Had exercise-induced anaphylaxis (an-a-fi-LAK-sis) or food-dependent exercise-induced anaphylaxis
- A history of asthma and want to scuba dive
- If you cough, wheeze and have a tight chest or shortness of breath when you exercise, you could have exercise induced asthma.
- Walking, leisure biking, swimming and hiking are good sporting activities for people with exercise induced asthma.
- Cold weather activities such as cross-country skiing and ice hockey, as well as sports that require short bursts of high energy are more likely to make your symptoms worse.
- A pulmonologist can figure out the cause of your symptoms and develop a treatment plan that can keep you exercising.
Feel Better. Live Better.
A pulmonologist is a doctor who specializes in diseases of the lungs and respiratory system. The right care can make the difference between difficulty breathing and feeling better. By visiting pulmonologist at Ocean Pulmonary Associates, you can expect an accurate diagnosis, a treatment plan that works and educational information to help you manage your disease