Asthma doesn't have to get in the way of your healthy-living goals. The key is to arm yourself with knowledge and expert advice.
Whether you've just been diagnosed with asthma or you have recently been experiencing symptom flare-ups, you might be worried that your condition is going to derail your healthy-living goals. The good news is, it doesn't have to. One of the best ways to ensure you receive proper care and manage your condition is to see an asthma specialist.
“You should see a specialist if you are experiencing more than occasional wheezing, chronic cough for more than six weeks, shortness of breath, an inability to exercise, or if you’re waking up at night with problems breathing,” says Michael Kaliner, MD, medical director at the Institute for Asthma and Allergy, and clinical professor of medicine at the George Washington University School of Medicine in Washington, DC.
Either an allergist or pulmonologist can address underlying problems associated with asthma such as allergies, sinusitis or obesity. They can also see if you might have other co-existing conditions that impact your breathing, such as snoring, obstructive sleep apnea, or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), also called "acid reflux."
Making sure that potentially related or co-existing conditions are properly treated helps your doctor to prescribe the appropriate amount of asthma medication. Unfortunately, some asthma medications might cause weight gain, namely oral corticosteroids. “However, enough drug options exist that if you are trying to drop extra pounds, you should be able to treat your asthma without having to contend with this side effect,” says Dr. David L. Rosenstreich, Allergy and Immunology Specialist at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York.
Losing weight and staying active
Losing weight can help reduce your asthma symptoms. While the relationship between asthma and weight is not completely understood, more weight on your chest may make it harder for your lungs to expand, creating difficulty breathing.
In addition to following a healthy diet to shed pounds, you may want to limit or avoid manufactured foods that contain a lot of artificial colors or preservatives, which can make food-allergy symptoms and in turn, asthma, worse.
Exercise can also be a part of your weight-loss plan as long as you manage your asthma to avoid a flare-up. Ask your asthma specialist to check how well your lungs are working with a spirometer; he or she can determine what treatment you might need and what level of physical activity is best for you.
Usually asthma patients are able to exercise without a flare-up if they use a prescribed quick-relief bronchodilator 10 to 15 minutes before physical activity.
Once you have the right treatment, “you can exercise to your limits, but you don't want to start off running a marathon,” says Rosenstreich. The American Council on Exercise recommends walking or swimming for people with asthma because these activities are low-intensity. Running and higher-intensity sports may need to be taken on gradually.
“With asthma, you get a warning that you're exceeding your capacity,” says Rosenstreich. “If your chest gets tight and you start to cough, you should stop.”
Whatever exercise you and your doctor decide is safe, spending about 10 to 15 minutes warming up before physical activity and cooling down afterward can help you avoid asthma flare-ups. So can listening to your body and resting when you need to.
As you lose weight, and your exercise tolerance increases, you should start noticing a reduction in asthma symptoms and will be on your way to a healthier you