Asthma FAQs

Asthma FAQs

What is an acute asthma attack?

In short, an acute asthma attack refers to a sudden and severe asthma attack. Usual medications and the use of inhaled bronchodilators do not easily alleviate symptoms of an attack. Symptoms are severe and life-threatening and are often associated with signs of a potential respiratory failure (status asthmaticus). An acute attack is an emergency and requires immediate medical attention.

How long does an asthma attack last?

The length of an attack will vary and largely depends on the trigger responsible for causing it, as well as how long the airways have been inflamed. An attack can range from a few minutes to more than an hour. A mild attack can be spontaneously resolved with medication and a quick-acting inhaler. More severe attacks require emergency medical intervention.

Why does my asthma worsen at night?

When lying down, nasal secretions accumulate in the airways. This can make it more difficult for an asthmatic person to breathe. Other nasal secretion culprits causing discomfort or irritation include sinus infections, postnasal drip and allergies to pet dander. All of these can contribute to worsening symptoms of asthma at night-time.

Can you ever ‘outgrow’ asthma?

A person can appear to become asymptomatic at some stage, but it doesn’t necessarily mean their asthma has gone into remission. To determine whether the condition is completely gone a biopsy of lung tissue would need to be tested and examined. The condition is a complex one in that many different factors and triggers contribute to a person’s illness. As such, there is no clear-cut answer to this question.

The majority of children correctly diagnosed with asthma appear to have symptoms before the age of five. It is a difficult diagnosis to make at such a young age as the lung function tests that most accurately determine the condition are fairly difficult for many little children to perform.

Some theories, when it comes to children potentially outgrowing their condition, indicate that sometimes, children merely have asthma-like symptoms when exposed to sensitive triggers such as viral or bacterial infections or other allergens. Their airways to the lungs become 'twitchy' and inflamed as a result, but they may never have actually had full-blown asthma.

Very few studies have monitored changes in children diagnosed with asthma well into their adult years. As such, ‘outgrowing’ the condition mostly remains questionable. What is evident in those studies that have taken place is that asthma symptoms change (which is a normal pattern of this condition). Some individuals will have occasional symptoms, some may have more frequent flare-ups, and others will appear to be free from symptoms altogether as adults.

Children who experience symptoms of wheezing triggered by upper respiratory infections have been noted to improve over time as they grow. But those who are particularly sensitive to allergens from a young age typically show little improvement at all. A family history of asthma has also been noted to play a role, and generally those with blood relatives with the condition tend to have lasting asthma symptoms.

The general rule of thumb for adults with asthma is that it is a long-term disease that cannot be outgrown or cured. Many adult asthmatics may go for long periods (sometimes a few years) without experiencing any symptoms. For the most part, the more severe the classification of asthma past the age of the five, the likelier symptoms will continue, whether a person’s condition is triggered by allergens or not.

It is best to never assume your condition ‘has gone away’. If you have been diagnosed and treated for asthma at any stage of your life, it is advisable to work closely with your doctor (periodically) to ensure that you are in your best condition throughout your life.

Is it possible to improve symptoms of asthma with exercise?

The key to finding a healthy balance with exercise when you are asthmatic is in understanding the healthy benefits, getting your symptoms under proper control and being mindful of overdoing things or exposing yourself to triggers. If you are adhering to your treatment plan and taking your medications as directed, your asthma should be under control. This then allows you better control over your physical activity. A healthy fitness routine can help to reduce your symptoms, improve your breathing capacity, strengthen your heart and alleviate any levels of stress and help to combat anxiety – all good reasons to exercise, and even more so when you suffer from asthma.

It is easy to be put off or become fearful of exercise when you have asthma. Increased activity can bring on an attack, and for many, this is a frightful experience. It has been likened to feeling as if 'you’re drowning in air'.

An asthma condition merely means your lungs are more sensitive to certain things, such as cold and hot temperatures, pollution and even dry air. During exercise, you are likely to breathe differently than when you’re not all that physically active.

Understanding this is important. When you’re not exercising you typically breathe more comfortably through your nose. When this happens, your nose moistens, warms and filters this air before it reaches your lungs. When you exercise, you can easily breathe more through your mouth which forces your lungs to work harder. This is what can trigger asthma symptoms into a full-blown attack. For this reason, many sufferers are encouraged to be mindful of their breathing during exercise – breathe in through your nose and breathe out through your mouth.

An important thing for an asthmatic person to remember is that you CAN exercise. The best form of activity is one that causes you to be just slightly out of breath. Some of the best activities for an asthmatic person are swimming, yoga, walking, biking, hiking, or even golf.

Activities which you may want to steer clear of include cold-weather sports, such as ice skating or ice hockey, and endurance activities, such as long-distance running. Choose an activity that you can enjoy and that is not too difficult for you. If you are able to do the activity 4 or 5 times a week in 30 minute sessions without pushing yourself, chances are you should be able to exercise safely. If you notice any symptom flare-ups when you work-out, consult your doctor for advice about the best ways to adjust your medication dosages and treatment plan, or for assistance with choosing a better suited activity.

Top tips for exercising include:

  • Always carrying an asthma inhaler with you
  • Including a good warm-up before a work-out
  • Breathing through your nose as much as possible
  • Avoiding potential triggers, such as cold weather or areas where pollen counts are high
  • Allowing yourself rest and recuperation when sick or feeling unwell (do not push yourself to exercise)
  • Knowing your exercise limits and stopping when you’ve reached them
  • Including a cool-down routine following a work-out session
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