Today is World Asthma Day! As an asthmatic who has wrestled with this disease for 36 years with some success, I’ve decided to address the topic of asthma today. (I’ve been able to overcome the illness enough to run 15 full marathons, a 50k, and to runstreak to 898 days today.) Asthma awareness is extremely important for all of us. Even if we don’t have asthma ourselves, all of us have friends and/or family members who confront this condition on a daily basis. Prevention of asthma conditions and symptoms is much of the cure. Maybe someday we will find a cure for asthma. But we’re not there yet.
Often, we think of asthma as something that we can outgrow. But science does not support that. We can prevent, treat, and manage asthma better. But outgrowing doesn’t seem to occur. In fact, as we age, we asthmatics become in some cases more likely to have asthma turn into COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease).
What is asthma? It is an inflammatory lung disease or condition caused by restricted airways. Sometimes our bronchioles in our lungs can become inflamed, shrinking the airway passages that we would otherwise be able to breathe through normally.
What causes this inflammation? Triggers can include environmental triggers such as dust, mold, pollen, cockroaches, pets, allergens, cigarette smoke, campfires, and other toxins in the air. Stress can also contribute to inflammation and in some people, trigger asthma attacks.
Did you know that about 1 in 13 people have asthma? Roughly 10% of school-aged children have asthma.
Sometimes exercise can cause or induce asthma or exacerbate the condition. Also, cold air is problem for some of us (it is for me). Humidity levels can have an impact as well (e.g., if humidity is too high mold is more likely to be present and for those of us with mold allergy or sensitivity, that is a problem).
According to the CDC, 24 million Americans have asthma, including 6 million children.
Many of us need or will need medication to help manage our asthma, as well as regular visits to our doctor for treatment.
But we cannot overstate the importance of eating anti-inflammatory foods and making sure we are getting enough Omega-3 fish oil in our diet. This keeps inflammation down. Much of asthma can be simplified into controlling inflammation as much as possible. I have noticed remarkable improvement in my asthma condition since taking control of my nutrition, adding more whole foods, more anti-inflammatory foods and spices, and making sleep and stress management significant priorities. If you would like a list of these anti-inflammatory foods and spices, please contact me. And I’m happy to help with identifying anti-inflammatory approaches as a health/running coach for anyone interested.
Also, everyone should monitor his/her asthma on a daily basis, documenting triggers and trend lines in peak flow readings. We should all have asthma action plans and know what to do in the yellow and red zone.
We should have our albuterol inhalers with us at all times for safety. An asthma attack can happen at any time and frequently it is when we least expect it to happen. It could be at night (nighttime asthma symptoms common for many of us, including me), on the run, or at/near a campfire.
A few tips that might be helpful:
1. Work with your doctor to manage your asthma condition and know what works/doesn’t work for you. Don’t try to treat the condition by yourself.
2. Ask your doctor what steps can be taken to make your home a more safe environment for your asthma. These steps might include: using a HEPA filter, removing mold from your home, adjusting your humidity, removing carpets, etc.
3. If there are allergens affecting your asthma, make sure that is addressed by your asthma/allergy specialist.
4. Exercise and move regularly. Don’t overdo it. But don’t underdo it either. Inactivity for many of us asthmatics seems to contribute to a worsening of the overall condition. For me, generally speaking, the more active I am with running, walking, etc., the better controlled my asthma is.
5. If you run with asthma, bring your inhaler with you. In fact, you should have it with you all the time.
6. Wear a Road ID with “asthma” on it when you run just in case something happens. That way, anyone assisting you will know that is a potential issue or complication.
7. Manage your asthma using an asthma action plan that you develop with your doctor/coach. Figure out where the green, yellow and red zones are and what to do if you reach the yellow/red zones.
8. Check your peak flow readings at least once per week. It’s sort of the asthma equivalent of a stress test. If you get into the yellow/red zone, you may want to check in with your doctor for ideas/suggestions.
9. When you see your asthma doctor, they can check your lungs for inflammation using a test where you simply breathe into a device and they will know. Make sure you check when you visit the doctor for your annual checkup. If inflammation is up, sometimes adjustments need to be made in your medication.
10. Finally, don’t stop taking all your asthma medication without consulting your doctor first and reaching an agreement on that. Asthma is cyclical and decisions like that should be made by consulting with the doctor and/or medical professionals.
11. Eat a whole food diet including anti-inflammatory foods and spices.
12. Don’t eat what you are allergic to, it’s not worth the risk. I’ve learned the hard way. Learn from my mistakes.
BONUS tip: Avoid campfires/smoke. That is how my first asthma attack happened (campfire smoke).
Also, remember to rest. If you know you’re having a bad asthma day, adjust your workout to very light intensity or take a day off from working out; it’s okay to take a rest day. If your asthma trend lines suggest you need to modify your workouts, do it. Ideally work with a coach to help with that.
If we all work together, we can raise asthma awareness around the world not just on World Asthma Day or during Asthma Awareness month (May is asthma awareness month) but every day of the year. We had a Twitterchat today called #AsthmaChat with the CDC and EPA. I’d love to see more of these asthma-related chats on and off twitter occur, if you are interested in helping with that please let me know.
Let’s work together to help those with asthma to get the help we need, including making sure we have clean unpolluted air to breathe. If we all do a little bit, we can accomplish a lot.
Finally, some of dealing with asthma is attitudinal: we must take a direct approach and try to crush asthma through whatever means possible. For me, I try to visualize crushing the illness and how that feels. I tell myself: I am not my asthma, I am so much more. Lately, I’ve been more direct in confronting this condition so I say:
CRUSH YOU, asthma! Crush you!