Friday, August 31, 2007
Asthma attack like 'breathing through a straw'
A friend has suffered from asthma since he was a little boy. So when I asked him what it was like to have an asthma attack, he had lots of different responses. "It's like drowning without water... like you're breathing through a straw," he said matter-of-factly. Breathing through a straw? "Yeah", he said. "Try it sometime." So I did. I hiked down to the cafeteria, grabbed a straw and started walking back to my office, breathing through the plastic tube. By the time I got to the elevator, I was winded, and when I made it to my desk, I had to sit down. It wasn't easy. In fact, if I had to breathe like that for a long period of time, it would be debilitating.

Twenty-two million people suffer from asthma in the United States, and that number according is growing, according to the American Lung Association. Even though it's treatable, severe asthma attacks can destroy patients' lungs, put them in the hospital, or even in the morgue. The CDC estimates that more than 4,000 people died of complications from asthma in the U.S. last year. And according to pulmonary experts, that doesn't have to happen. They say no one should die from asthma.

In an effort to make sure asthma patients live active, full lives while minimizing the risk of their condition, the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute of the NIH is recommending new guidelines for doctors and patients on how best to treat asthma. The recommendations are pretty lengthy, but there are a couple of key points. The NHLB wants to make sure doctors stay in touch with their asthma patients, because asthma symptoms can change as people get older. It also is asking patients to make sure they always take their medication, no matter if their symptoms have diminished. And the NHLB wants patients to recognize what triggers their asthma and to keep in touch with their doctors on a yearly basis, to make sure the medications they are using are working to full potential.

So why, you ask, would an asthmatic stop medication? Because the symptoms don't always linger. Sometimes asthma patients can go for years without having an attack. They get a false sense of security; they drop their meds, pitch their inhalers and go on with life. The problem is, asthma is chronic and it does return and when it does, it can be fatal.

Asthma can also be triggered by environmental factors and physical problems. Recent studies have shown that chronic conditions including reflux, obesity, sleep apnea, depression and even stress can cause frequent asthma attacks. And there are lots of things around us that can affect an asthmatic. Allergens are a biggie, because they cause allergic reactions that can set off an attack. Some common allergens are dust mites, mold, pollen and pet dander. And pollutants in the air are also major triggers. Chalk dust, smoke (especially secondhand smoke), even scented candles and perfumes can make asthma patients, especially asthmatic children, miserable. Asthmatics also have to watch how vigorously they exercise, because they become winded easily. Even the weather, especially cold and dry air, can cause asthma symptoms in certain people.

For my friend, asthma is part of his everyday life. He carries an inhaler. His family can handle the situation should he have an attack. The NHLB would like to see more families like my friend's, because they're aware of what the condition can do to their loved one. And according to physicians, knowing more about asthma is the best way to fight it.

Are you an asthmatic? Do you have a loved one who has asthma? Are there any recommendations you can make to help asthmatics live healthier lives? Let us know.
Dear Val Willingham,

I grew up outside the US and never had asthma as a child. When I came to New York, I switched from a rice-based diet and drinking non-homogenized fresh cows-milk to a more wheat-based diet. Then I developed lactose intolerance (due to drinking processed homogenized milk) and intolerance to wheat.

In wheat intolerance: the body produces antibodies (IgE, I believe) which ignites an upper respiratory inflammatory response, causing chest pains at the region of the sternum (mimicking heart attack) and breathing problems. I have grown more sensitive to cigarette smoke too, which brings up the inflammatory response in the upper bronchi.
Thanks for the information! Having had asthma for 40 years, (and having been raised by & working with smokers all my life) I have learned my triggers well enough to be able to anticipate sitations 9(nd avoid them if humanly possible) that will cause problems. The recent changes in Chicago area laws prohibiting smoking in offices, or around the office entrances, has made a big difference.

It can be disabling, at times, but the most important thing is education, awareness and easy access to needed medications & asthma/pulmonary specialists.
I've been an asthmatic since I was four years old and I'm 37 now. I've been an avid surfer for at least 25 of those years after starting 32 years ago. Exercise and eating healthy enough has been a key for me to maintaining a decent lifestyle along with the medicines. Whenever I put on 5 to 10 pounds it automatically increases my asthma. Keeping your stress down, keeping the exercise and relaxation up are the things that work for me. Keeping in shape, and keeping your lungs and body working regularly seems to keep asthma to a minimum for me. I did leave Florida for San Diego 6 years ago. Leaving the humid environment also improved my breathing and lifestyle too....If you can't do all of these things, swimming would be my number one recommendation to keeping in shape and a healthy set of lungs.
Thanks for the opportunity to respond. I'm an adult female who was diagnosed with asthma 4 years ago at age 33. I've been through three pulmonologists and multiple trips to the ER, but now have a physician that I trust and who actually discusses causes and treatment with me (rather than just treating symptoms.)
I've learned a lot about my responses to triggers, and have finally learned to take maintenance meds consistently. My largest trigger is stress, but with limited nebulizer use, I can usually even manage working an 80 or 90 hour week when necessary. I've also had to learn to manage viruses and infections quickly, because my asthma will flair within hours.
Like many asthmatics, I have a love/hate relationship with injected prednisone (can't live with it, can't live without it.)
Finally, as my family says: breathing is not optional.
Inhalers have never worked for me!! I really can't stand reading that asthmatics should carry their inhaler, as if it is some sort of miracle medication. It's not. The only thing which works for me is prednisone.
Thank you for such a wonderful article. I am an allergic ashmatic. I have known about my ashmatic for a year now. I have a wonderful allergist who is also a professor at NJ University of Medicine and Denistry, who diagnose me with the condition and has helped me control my allergies. The paragraph which states ashtma can be triggered by environmental factors is so informative and true for me. I am allergic to mold, dust mites and pet dander. I have keep my environment as clean as possible, or the build up of allergans affect me deeply. Scented candles and even detergents, are troublesome for me. I control my wheezing with an inhaler now. Only this year after a lung test (and because he was there with me this time) did I find out I have sport-induced ashtma. I am controlling my allergies by staying away from eating to much heavy cheese (I get serious nasal congestion afterwords), washing sheets each week, sleeping on a tempur-pedic (no mold/no dust mites can exist), eating as much organic and non-processed foods as much as possible, us non-toxic household products (such as Method products), using my inhaler before I exercise and when I am around cats, and washing my hair at night during pollen season. LOL hopes this helps... I did not have to use Zyrtec this year!
I have learned to manage my own asthma symptoms, finding that almost all of my problems came from food-related causes. High fructose corny syrup...that's a big one that people have discovered really causes asthma. Hmmm...why are we seeing more and more cases of a disease that's not contagious? Well...what's changed more than anything else in the world? Our food.

So you go to the doctor and they give you a prescription for a drug that says on the warning label "May cause dependency," or, "May cause symptoms to worsen."

I went to the doctor recently for an unrelated problem and when she heard I had asthma she prescribed a stronger inhaler. I explained to her that I had my symptoms under control. She told me to get it anyway. In the car on the way home I read the label and it said not to use it if you had your asthma under control.

And this is supposed to build trust between me and the medical community?
Dr. Gupta: Both my mother and grandmother had dementia though not Alzheimers. Needless to say, I am concerned about my own potential to develop the disease. Is there any kind of testing one can get to predict whether or not one were like to have problems in the future? If so, where would I find this service? I am 64 and so far see no signs of problems but the specter of the disease is always in the back of my mind. I would like some peace of mind, one way or the other.
Acid Reflux can cause an asthma attack. I didn't have any symptoms of acid reflux, so when my doctor suggested this being the reason for my asthma flare ups, requiring hospitalization, I was shocked. I take prilosec everyday now and have not been in the hospital or had any flare ups.
I was diagnosed with asthma when i was 24 (i am now 31). I know my triggers quite well, mostly second-hand smoke, incense, perfume/cologne, and strenuous exercise.

Interestingly, my bodyfat % also highly affects my asthma. If i have less than 12% bodyfat, i'm almost free of asthma. But if i'm more than 16% (which is far from being obese), i get them very frequently (multiple times a day).
Dear Val Willingham....

Thank you so much for valuable
a piece of information.

In my mom's case, after heart operation the asthmatic symptom has gone. I think the heart disease and the asthma have relationship each other.

Don't eat a heavy meal before bed.
It makes the asthma worse.

Rugs and bedding can be breeding grounds of dust mites.
Also molds, another common source of asthma, tend to be proliferated
under rainy and humid conditions.

Keeping clean is a safeguard against every disease.....

I'm deeply grateful to you :D
May you be happy ^^
The one recommendation that I can give is lifestyle changes. I have been an asthmatic for all my life and used to suffer attacks when I was younger. I also have played sports as well, when I was younger I used to have to carry my inhaler to all of my games and practices. But when I entered organized school sports that had strength and conditioning programs I noticed that after intense physical exercise my asthma would gradually decrease. By the time I was in high school I have not needed the use of an inhaler. I believe the best way to combat asthma is exercise, especially cardiovascular, now I still work out and play sports and I have not had an asthma attack since elementary school.
I'm an asthmatic and so are my grandfather, mother, and sisters. I have quite a few friends who are also asthmatics. I used to be quite dependent on my medicines- but when I turned 11 (quite a long time ago), my dad stepped in and said, Ok, enough of all that medicine- time to exercise. So from that time we had to jog everyday. We would run about 5 km a day for a period of about 6 months. Ever since then I've maintained a very active lifestyle- but it's always that running that really strengthened my lungs. I still do get asthma attacks, but it's quite rare that I get it now, and I barely use medicine anymore.
I've had asthma all my life. I'm 61. Recently, my somewhat chronic bronchitis has been stopped by my sleep apnea machine. Then I don't get an asthma attack or episode. One solution helping another. Exercise has always helped, especially walking more than 20 minutes a day - keep things moving! Taking preventitive medication like advair has all but eliminated my emergency inhaler. I thought I'd contribute to this discussion. Thanks.
I have asthma. My triggers include but are not limited to dust, perfume, changes in weather and stress. My asthma specialist has told me the only way to manage my dust and perfume sensitivity is avoidance. I have taken to wearing an N95 particulate respirator at work. The office I work in is very dusty and there are many people who work there who wear perfume. My company has refused to do anything to accommodate my perfume sensitivity. My supervisor is actually hostile toward me because of my problem. A very small number of my coworkers have harrassed me and called me crazy. Needless to say, the stress caused by my work situation doesn't help. Asthma is a very difficult condition to live with. It can be physically and emotionally debilitating.

As a mother to a child who's 8.5 year's young who was only born with one lung and has reactive airway diease. I can tell you the for my daughter getting lots of fruits, vegetable's, and fresh clear water are very big on our list of healthy thing's to do. I normally always have my daughter's med on hand. I don't like to use steroids with her but do when really needed. Another thing I've found that works great if Cod Liver and Flaxseed oil's. Both are natural anti-immflamatories. We also use herbs and other wonderful items from other culture's that work.


A Mother of a Awesome child
I'm a 21 year old female who was diagnosed with asthma at the age of 2. Living in Wisconsin, I can tell you that cold weather is completely unavoidable and potentially debilitating at times. And you can't exactly use your inhaler in below-zero weather because you are inhaling freezing medication. I've found the best preventative is a good scarf not only around my neck but around my mouth. Breathing out warms the scarf and breathing in through the warmed scarf warms the air a bit, hopefully preventing an asthma attack.

I've gone through so many different asthma medications its ridiculous. I've had good luck with Advair so far, I like that I can feel it working. I used to have to take prednisone in the spring because my allergies would set off my asthma and my preventative inhaler wasn't keeping up. I don't have to do that anymore with the Advair. The big thing is if you are having problems, you should go to the doctor. There are tons of new medications available and your doctor can inform you about them. Its worth it to make a lifestyle plan with your doctor.
I've had asthma most of my life. For years I've been able to keep it under good control by being diligent with my daily medication and avoiding triggers.

Since I found out I had asthma I've participated in a lot of clinical studies for different asthma medications. I'd recommend that people with asthma do this if possible. I have learned volumes about how my asthma reacts to many things, and what medications work the best for me. I am also gratified to know that some of the medications I was an early tester for have since come on the market and helped countless others. (Especially me!)

It's a tough disease to life with, but when a person takes steady care and lives a healthy life, asthma can be successfully lived with.
Couple of things caught my attention. : Asthma is like breathing through a straw and its connection with sleep apnea and obesity.

You see, I'm not a asthma sufferer myself but I'm a health researcher and have helped many people suffering from sleep apnea. And they experience the same thing (probably for a different reason) that their breathing passages are not wide enough and close up (like a squeezed straw). Just got me thinking if any kind of breathing passage exercises had ever been used to help with asthma.

Warm regards,

Christian Goodman

I am a mom - my daughter and I both have indoor allergies. Keeping the dust mite population in our house under control is essential.

I work for, and use a Halo. It's the world's first vacuum that KILLS dust mites, fleas, the flu virus, lice, mold & bacteria with the use of ultraviolet light.

Check out our website:

Sanitize your floors without the use of chemicals.
Why does no one talk about the Chemtrails that are being sprayed on the population? All one has to do is go to YouTube or your local browser and type in Chemtrails.... This is what we should be worrying about. And also What about the Bohemian Grove???

Our "watchdogs" should be talking about these things and bringing them to the public's attention.

Love, light and peace,
Denise Mills.
I have had asthma for about 20 years and one of my triggers has been artificial smoke used in theater and concerts, I have learned the hard way to always take my inhaler with me to any such performance. I have had to leave several performances due to this smoke.
Asthma is terrible to have. I have been fighting all my life with it. I can't run or exersize without being worried that I'll have another attack. I don't like using an inhaler because it speeds up my heart. What can I do? Your help is appreciated.
My 15 yr old is a severe asthmatic with numerous allergies, who was diagnosed at 3. It took us 4 years to get the right medications and dosages to get him under control. At age 5 he was put on a med not recommmended for his age group but that worked. His specialists, he and I work together to keep on top of symptoms and treatments. My son is very pro-active in caring for himself. Parents & children have to be very aware of the triggers and how to handle an attack calmly. I carry an inhaler, we keep 1 in our synagogue, he carries one and we even have 1 at a friends house just in case. The more involved we as parents are in working with our doctors, the better our children will be. Astham can be treated and controlled - it just takes work and a committment.
I have had asthma for over 30 years. I know my triggers, and every 10 years or so, they change. I used allergy shots for over 10 years and a cortisone inhaler. However, all has changed within these past 6 months. I have gone through acupuncture treatments, and haven't had an asthma attack, wheezing, allergies, colds...If I would have known about this, I would have tried it a long time ago!
I'm not worried about brain tumors from cell phone use, but I am concerned with being able to use a cell phone on an airplane, since cell phones could be used to detonate a bomb. I don't think we should be able to use them on planes.
I've been an asthmatic for as long as I can remember. One of the hardest things for me right now is not having insurance to pay for all the medicines that I need. I've been hospitalized so many times in the last few years that the nurses know me by name. I'm always sick so I can't seem to keep a job and without a job I can't get insurance. It's a hard cycle to get out of and I know several people that it's happening to.

I wish more people were educated about asthma because I've actually been fired for having an attack at work and needing to use my medication.
I've had asthma all my life, allergy triggered and exercise induced. In high school i figured out that through conditioning, i could improve my lung capacity and get rid of most of the symptoms of asthma. Weight was never a factor, I've always been fairly lean. When i first started running, I couldn't run a quarter mile without feeling like i was about to die. 3 weeks later i could run 3 miles. I'm now 26 and through the years I have been amazed at how fast my lungs adapt to my conditioning, or lack thereof. If i go more than 3 or 4 weeks without running, i can get short of breath by going up a flight of stairs. but if i stay in shape, i can run miles. It also helps with the allergen symptoms too. Animal dander will still trigger it, but if i'm in shape i can just deal with it. i haven't used in inhaler in about 8 years. Growing up i was in the hospital all the time trying to deal with it. So anyone i meet that has asthma, i always tell them to start running. It might feel like you're going to die at first, but after a while you will be shocked at the difference a good set of efficient lungs can make. ;)
For some people it seems counter intuitive because if they exercise, they get asthma, so they don't exercise. the less they exercise, they weaker their lungs get, and the cycle continues. All i can say is that any asthmatic who quits feeling sorry for themselves and makes the choice to put themselves through hell for a few weeks of conditioning will be greatly rewarded.
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