Many of the 22 million Americans who have asthma limit their activities and miss work or school. The disease also can kill. Almost 4,000 people die from asthma each year and most of these deaths are preventable. Uncontrolled asthma and asthma deaths happen when the disease is not treated correctly or sometimes because people do not know they have asthma.
Effective asthma control begins with the right diagnosis early in the disease. Delays can lead to permanent lung damage.
Your doctor first decides how to treat your asthma by looking at what your symptoms are now and what they have been in the past. The doctor also will try to determine your risk for future attacks. This information will help you and your doctor develop guidelines to manage your disease and keep your asthma under control.
If you just started treatment or have frequent symptoms, your doctor may want to see you every two to six weeks. Once treatment is under way, doctor visits may be every one to six months to check asthma control, even when you have no symptoms.
During your visits, the doctor will review your symptoms, activities and medicines. Between visits, it is important for you to monitor your asthma by keeping an asthma diary to track your symptoms or using a peak flow meter to measure the air flow from your lungs. With either method, you also should keep track of your medication use. This information will help you and your doctor decide if any changes in your treatment plan are needed.
Why does physical exertion sometimes cause an asthma attack?
During exercise, rapid breathing occurs through the mouth. As a result, the air that reaches the bronchial tubes has not been warmed and humidified by passing through the nose. This cold, dry air can trigger asthma symptoms. It usually takes six to eight minutes of sustained aerobic exercise to bring out asthma symptoms, which may then occur for several minutes after the exercise has been completed.
If asthma symptoms begin after fewer than six to eight minutes of hard exercise or during or after very mild exercise, a person’s asthma may be out of control and these symptoms should be discussed with a physician. More than 70 percent of all people with asthma suffer some degree of exercise-induced asthma, which is usually preventable.
Should persons with asthma avoid sports and exercise?
By taking preventive measures, people with asthma should be able to compete in sports. However, not all sports are tolerated equally well. In general, exercise and most sports that involve prolonged periods of running are more likely to provoke asthma attacks than nonaerobic ones.
Swimming is one of the best-tolerated sports. In most instances, pre-exercise medications and warm-up exercises enable participation. Many Olympic athletes, including several gold medal winners, have had asthma.