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Ester Marsh column: Exercising with asthma

With fall right around the corner, asthma sufferers see their asthma being triggered typically more often. That does not mean you can’t exercise! It means you have to be aware and know what your triggers are and prevent them if possible and have the right medicine with you if you can’t stop an attack.

Asthma and exercising

Unfortunately, asthma is an increasingly common lung disease in the U.S. All kinds of triggers can cause an asthma attack:

  • Tobacco smoke, definitely first-hand but also secondhand.
  • Dust mites — you can’t get rid of dust mites, but you can keep your house clean, get rid of carpets and have hardwood or vinyl floors (and mop them regularly), get rid of any down-filled pillows or comforters, which are a true feast for dust mites. Wash your bedding regularly and in the hottest water setting.
  • Outdoor air pollution (a big one for the increase in asthma disease).
  • Cockroach allergen, yikes! The cockroach itself and their droppings can cause an asthma attack. Even if you don’t have asthma, you don’t want them in your house.
  • Pet hair. If your pet has a lot of hair or severe shedding, you might want to look into a different pet, such as a non-poisonous snake or lizard.
  • Mold — any moist area can grow mold. Make sure leaks are fixed and areas are well ventilated. Use a de-humidifier for trouble areas.
  • Smoke from fires. Even a campfire can set off an asthma attack.
  • The flu and colds can also trigger asthma attacks.
  • Emotional stress, cold air, medicines such as aspirin or beta-blockers, sulfites in food or wine can also trigger an asthma attack.
  • Exercise can trigger an asthma attack. However, with increased conditioning this will fade or become better with time and dedication.

These triggers are not limited or in order of importance.

Let’s go over some warning signs.

Early warning signs can be:

• Breathing changes, sneezing, moodiness, headache, runny/stuffy nose, coughing, chin or throat itches, vomiting, feeling tired, dark circles under eyes, trouble sleeping and poor tolerance for exercise.

Asthma symptoms that an episode is occurring can be:

• Wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath, tightness in the chest.

Severe asthma symptoms can be:

• Severe coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath or tightness in the chest; difficulty talking or concentrating; walking causes shortness of breath; breathing may be shallow and fast or slower than usual; hunched shoulders; nasal flaring; neck area and below ribs moves inward with breathing; gray or bluish tint to skin, beginning around mouth.

If you think that you or your child suffers from asthma, your first step is to go to your doctor and let him/her diagnose you or your child. Your doctor will give you the necessary treatment if you are suffering from asthma.

As a personal trainer, I have come in contact with asthma patients numerous times. As a mother of an elite runner with asthma, I am convinced the better shape you are in, the better you can deal with your asthma, or even eliminate it.

But, before you exercise, or start exercising, talk to your doctor. As I mentioned, exercise could also be a trigger for an asthma attack. Your doctor will inform you about the dos and don’ts. With the proper medication, and a doctor’s prescription, you can exercise with asthma. (Even when it is exercise induced).

With a proper diagnosis from your doctor, the right medication and the understanding of what triggers your asthma attack, anyone who suffers from it can exercise.

Ester H Marsh, Associate Executive Director JF Hurley YMCA

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