Asthma, a breathing condition that affects both children and adults, currently affects an estimated 3 million Canadians (that’s just under 10% of the Canadian population.) Asthma can be chronic or acute and occurs when the lining if your airways becomes swollen and inflamed, resulting in muscle spasms and other unpleasant symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, feeling of tightness in the chest, and even restricted breathing. These symptoms can not only be frightening, but in some cases, they can also be fatal depending on the severity of the attack.
There are a number of different things that can trigger an asthma attack, along with several factors that put you at greater risk of developing it, such as:
• Air pollution (particularly if you live in an urban area)
• Occupational exposures (chemical fumes, wood dusts, molds)
• Viral or bacterial respiratory infections
• Being overweight or obese
• Having a family history of asthma
Something else that can trigger asthma that you may not have been aware of, is exercise. When exercising, most people tend to breathe through their mouths and are inhaling cooler, drier air (for example, if you work out in an air-conditioned gym or exercise outdoors in cooler weather.) The muscles in your airways are sensitivity to changes in temperature and humidity, and can contract as a result, causing them to narrow and resulting in an asthma attack. When this occurs, this is known as exercise-induced asthma. While it can happen while engaging in low-impact exercise, it’s typically triggered by workouts that are more vigorous.
One of the most common questions that people with asthma and exercise-induced asthma have is whether or not they should avoid exercise, and the answer is no, as there are certain steps you can take to prevent it from occurring. For example, if you are going to exercise outdoors in cooler or drier conditions, consider covering your mouth and nose with a scarf. Before exercising, it’s also important that you do a brief 5 to 10-minute warm-up session. There are also certain activities that are less likely to trigger exercise-induced asthma, such as leisurely walking, gymnastics, and swimming. When exercising, it’s important to pay close attention to your breathing at all times. If you start to experience any asthma-related symptoms at any time during your workout, then you should stop what you’re doing.
As for how asthma is treated, there are several different options – the most common being quick-relief inhalers or preventive longer-term control medications. These medications can include inhaled corticosteroids, combination inhalers (consisting of a long-acting beta agonist in addition to a corticosteroid), as well as oral medications such as leukotriene modifiers, and, in some cases, even allergy medications. Like all medications, those used to help relieve symptoms of asthma can also some with side effects – particularly when the use of steroids is involved. Among the most common side effects of inhaled corticosteroids are things like coughing, a hoarse voice, a sore throat, oral thrush, and in some cases nosebleeds. If you are on an asthma medication and experience any of these symptoms, you should speak to your doctor or pharmacist.