Like everyone else who’s taken a break from going to the gym or running on the track, my body was clearly tired and showing signs of being out of shape. Unlike most people, I will cough and wheeze for a couple of days until my body gets used to the exercise. Apparently, I still have asthma.
Asthma is a disease that causes difficulty in breathing because a person’s bronchial airways are tight. And it’s actually pretty common (25.7 million people in the United States have it), especially in children (CDC). I should know; I was born with it.
Everyone who has asthma was born with the disease; it’s genetic. This doesn’t mean that everyone who has asthma will show symptoms. Some people won’t know that they have asthma until it’s activated by environmental factors. Symptoms can include coughing, wheezing, and general difficulty with breathing. There are environmental factors that activate asthma symptoms called triggers (Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America). One trigger of asthma is smoking.
My parents were both chain smokers when I was younger and that definitely did not help my breathing (but my mom hasn’t smoked in 12 years! Woohoo!). Smoking, like other triggers, causes inflammation of the bronchial tubes, which are the airways leading to your lungs. When someone’s bronchial tubes are inflamed, they swell, tighten the air passage, and get filled with mucus (KidsHealth.org). When these things happen, an asthma attack occurs. Asthma attacks occur because not enough air can pass to the lungs.
Common triggers that can upset breathing in people who have asthma are (AAFA):
- irritants in the air (smog, air freshener, perfume, and smoke from fires)
- substances that cause allergies (dust and pollen)
- respiratory infections (the common cold)
- weather (cold air, dry wind, and sudden changes in weather)
Other triggers that people might find surprising are:
- experiencing strong emotions (sometimes I make a weird coughing sound when I laugh too hard, crying)
- some medicine (like aspirin)
- exercise*** (Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America)
Since every individual is unique, some people will only experience symptoms from some of those triggers. The severity of the effect those triggers have on a person’s breathing will vary from each person, as well.
No one knows how to prevent asthma; and no one knows how to cure it, but there are some ways to help prevent activating asthma and asthma attacks (Asthma Society of Canada):
- avoid secondhand smoke
- keep dust (and other triggers) in your environment to a minimum
- wash your bedding regularly (about once a week)
- clean your home to keep dust and mold away
- to avoid air pollutants, try exercising inside and use air conditioner
- don’t keep pets that shed fur
- use inhalers as directed by your doctor
Let’s say you do have asthma, like me. There are still some awesome ways to treat any symptoms and attacks. When I had asthma attacks when I was ages 4-8, I had a humongous machine that treated my episodes. This machine was HUGE and it made a horrible noise when it was plugged in and my mom had to put in these vials of albuterol (this was the early 90’s, mind you). All I have to say is, “Thank goodness” for inhalers.
Now, when someone does have an asthma attack, it is very important for that person to stay calm because panicking will only worsen the attack. Next, the person must use his/her inhaler. Only if the inhaler doesn’t work or only works for a short while, must this individual be taken to the hospital or have 911 called for them. For small flare-ups or non-emergency attacks over time, there are 3 different types of treatment (Mayo Clinic):
- inhalers: filled with steroids (no, not the steroids athletes take illegally) for short-acting medication, beta-agonists for long-term and quick-relief medication, or a combination of the two
- oral medication: leukotriene pills or theophylline pills for long-term control or steroid pills for quick-relief
- allergy shots: usually taken by people whose asthma is triggered by allergies
For people with asthma, take notes on what upsets your breathing, how difficult it is to breathe, and how your asthma changes over time. According to the CDC, everyone with asthma should have an Asthma Action Plan, which is a “written plan that you develop with your doctor to help control your asthma” (CDC). An individual can control the severity of their asthma simply by knowing the different levels of treatment and by taking control of their environment by reducing the triggers they come in contact with.
***People with exercise-induced asthma will experience difficulty in breathing for a short while (nothing fatal). This does not mean that people with asthma need to limit their physical activity. If breathing is too uncomfortable for someone, they may need to change their treatment, NOT THEIR EXERCISE. So I leave you with this:
By ARIELLE COLON