World Asthma Day

NV07_World Health Day_30_Dec_03










Asthma Basics and Exercising

What is Asthma?

Asthma is a lung condition which affects the airways that carries air in and out of the lungs.  People with asthma have sensitive/inflamed airways that become irritated and swollen when certain “trigger” elements, like pollen and pet dander or even cold air enter their airways. Symptoms of asthma commonly include coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, tightness in the chest, and/or excessive mucus.

What causes Asthma?

Asthma is triggered by a variety of elements in our environment, both natural and man-made. Hereunder are some examples of the elements that can trigger a reaction:

Allergens such as:

  • dust mites, plant pollen, pet dander, molds

Irritants such as:

  • smoke from cigarettes, wood fires, and charcoal grills; fumes from household cleaners, paint, perfumes, and gasoline
  •  dry wind, cold air, and sudden weather changes
  •  exercise and activities that make you breathe harder
  • laughing, yelling, and crying when they cause changes in breathing patterns

Infections such as:

  • common colds, sore throats, and sinus infections

What is an Asthma Attack/Episode ?

When Asthma sufferers are exposed to their triggers, they can experience an “Attack”, in which they may cough, wheeze, and/or have difficulty breathing.  This is due to the lining of the airways becoming swollen and irritated by the trigger.  Along with the swelling, the muscles around the airways tighten, and mucus clogs the airways.  As a result, the airways are very narrow and the sufferer feels like they are trying to breathe through a straw and not able to get in enough oxygen.

Asthma Episodes are Preventable :

Asthma is classed as a chronic disease that must be constantly monitored.  It is very important to figure out what your triggers are so that you can either avoid them or learn to manage them. You can be allergy tested so that you can safely narrow down what your Triggers are. For example you may be allergic to cats but not dogs or you may be allergic to Grasses but not Feathers.

Then you need to consult with you Doctor to establish and Asthma Management plan which will detail the right medication to help you manage your Asthma and then to be vigilant about taking the meds when you are supposed to.

In your Asthma Management Plan you should have the following :

  • Identify and minimize contact with your asthma triggers.
  • Understand and take medications as prescribed.
  • Monitor your asthma and recognize early signs that it is worsening.
  • Know what to do when your asthma is worsening.

Exercising Safely with Asthma

Just because you have Asthma, does not mean that you should not exercise. In fact the complete opposite is true. Many world-class athletes have asthma, including runners Paula Radcliffe and Jo Pavey, cyclists Laura Trott and Bradley Wiggins and footballers David Beckham and Paul Scholes.

Generally when people breathe, they breathe in through their nose and out through their mouth which warms the air and filters the air before it gets to your lungs. But as soon as people start to exercise and start becoming short of breath, they start breathing through their mouth which can be tough on the lungs and can trigger an asthma attack.

The trick to exercising with Asthma is to start slowly.

Symptoms to look out for

When you exercise, it’s normal for your heart to beat faster and your breathing to become quicker. If you’re doing vigorous activity, or you haven’t exercised for a while, you may feel out of breath, hot and sweaty, and your face may look red and flushed.

If you start to have asthma symptoms you need to stop the activity and take your inhaler quickly to avoid symptoms getting worse. Once you’ve been exercising regularly for while you will get less breathless and won’t need to use your inhaler as much during exercise.

Try picking an exercise that is not too difficult to start because over exerting yourself when you are not fit may trigger and asthma attack. The best exercise is one that causes you to be just slightly out of breath. If you can talk comfortably while you are exercising, your exercise level is not passing the talk test. It means that means you may not be working hard enough to receive all the benefits of exercising.

The key is that as long as you’re looking after your asthma well, and your symptoms are under control, you can enjoy any type of exercise.

Stop exercising and take your reliever inhaler if you:

  • start coughing/wheezing
  • are gasping for air/very short of breath/can’t get enough air
  • feel tightness in the chest
  • have trouble speaking in short sentences
  • younger children may complain that their chest or tummy hurts.

 Regular exercise can help reduce asthma symptoms by:

  • improving how well your lungs work so you have more stamina and get less breathless
  • boosting your immune system so your asthma is less likely to be triggered by coughs and colds.
  • supporting weight loss, which will cut your risk of symptoms and an asthma attack
  • releasing ‘feel-good’ chemicals in your brain to lift your mood. Studies show that if you are stressed or depressed, you are at a higher risk of asthma symptoms as a result; staying happy and healthy really is good for your asthma.

Top tips – exercising with asthma

  1. If it’s cold, wrap a scarf loosely over your nose and mouth to warm the air before it gets to your airways. If it’s really cold and you know that cold air triggers your asthma, it might be best to stick to indoor activities until the weather warms up again.
  2. Always have your inhaler with you. If you have asthma symptoms when you exercise, stop, take your inhaler and make sure you wait for your symptoms to go before starting again.
  3. If you know pollen is a trigger for your asthma, avoid exercising outside when the pollen count is high and make sure you’re taking the right medicines to treat your hay fever alongside your usual asthma medicines. You might try exercising in the gym instead.
  4. Warm up before you start, with a walk or a jog to warm up your muscles and include some stretches before and after exercise to help with your flexibility and the range of movement in your joints.
  5. Tell people about your asthma, whether it’s your fitness instructor or your exercise buddy, so they can recognise your asthma symptoms and help you if they get worse.
  6. Make sure you have an up to date written asthma action plan so you know what to do if your asthma symptoms come on.

Types of Exercises you could try if you are starting out :

  • Walking is a form of aerobic exercise that most of us can fit easily into our lives. A pedometer is a small device that counts your steps; use one to see how many steps you achieve in a day. To up your count, opt to walk instead of using the car or public transport.
  • Swimming is a good all-round exercise, and can be particularly good for people with asthma. Be aware that chlorine used in pools may be a trigger for some people with asthma though.
  • Yoga, Pilates or T’ai chi – choose a beginner’s class which will allow you to go at your own pace.

Exercise for your child with asthma

If you are worried about your child exercising with their asthma, start by exercising with them so that you can help them to learn to manage their symptoms and establish exactly what their capabilities are before starting them with a school sport. Take them for a walk around the park or ride their bike around the block. Start slowly and as they get fitter and stronger you can increase the distance and/or the speed. It will help them to feel more confident about how much they can do with you around and when they are fit enough for them to join in school sports/PE.

Ensure that your child knows where their inhaler is at all times and that their coaches are aware of their condition and how to use their inhaler if the need arises.

As long as your child is able to manage their asthma well, and is keeping to a good routine of taking their asthma medicines, exercise will be good for them, and could give them more confidence about their asthma and what they’re able to do.

You can encourage your child to get more active by:

  • finding out what activities they like best
  • Doing the exercise as a family
  • trying fun things like rollerblading or skateboarding
  • taking them to the beach in the summer
  • taking them sledging in winter

Leading by example is the best way to help your child achieve a level of fitness that allows them to play freely without the constant worry of an asthma attack. So make sure you are keeping yourself fit too !!

Yours in AWARENESS !!!

Bonnie xxx



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