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Keeping Asthma Under Control 

Asthma is a serious respiratory ailment that affects between 30 and 40 million Americans. It is caused by inflammation of the bronchial tubes or airways that lead into the lungs and constriction of those airways, which makes it difficult to breathe. This can result in wheezing, chest tightness, or shortness of breath.

In the United States alone, asthma leads to about 5,000 deaths, 2 million emergency room visits, and 500,000 hospitalizations each year. Furthermore, there is increasing evidence that, if left untreated or improperly treated, asthma may cause a long-term decline in lung function as well as lung scarring over time. These factors can make it more difficult to breathe and cause your symptoms to become more persistent and severe.

Asthma is caused or worsened by a variety of factors. These include allergies to pollen, grass, certain types of food, pet dander, tobacco smoke and many other substances that are present in the environment. The condition also can be worsened by unsupervised physical exercise or exertion, but thanks to advances in modern medicine, asthma need not prevent you from exercising or participating in sports.

People have frequently asked me if they should exercise or participate in sports if they have asthma and the answer is yes, they can -- under proper medical supervision. Dr. Brooks Emory, a pulmonologist in the critical care unit at Ochsner Clinic Foundation and a specialist in this field, says, "Asthma is not a contra-indication to physical and athletic activity." He cites the examples of professional athletes such as Jerome Bettis, an All-Pro running back with the Pittsburgh Steelers; former long-distance runner Jim Ryun; and others who were diagnosed with asthma but were able to overcome their conditions with proper medication and other precautions.

Emory works with asthmatic athletes in many strenuous sports, including swimming, running, football and others. He encourages them "to be as active as possible" as long as they're receiving appropriate medical treatment. He notes that there has been significant progress in the treatment of asthma over the past 20 or 30 years with the development of new products designed to keep the condition manageable. Improvements have been made to inhalants that open up the bronchial tubes. There is even a preparation that can be taken up to 12 hours before engaging in strenuous physical activity. With a note from the doctor, students can get the OK to take this or other asthma medication during the school day if they're going to take part in physical education or after-school sports.

Don't expect a food fad to cure your asthma, however. There is no "asthma diet." The only proven way to treat asthma is to follow the daily treatment plan your doctor prescribes. Drink adequate fluids and eat well-balanced meals. That means eating the proper number of servings in each of the five food groups. Your doctor can give you information about the foods in each group and the suggested daily requirements. Under his or her direction, start slowly and work up to longer exercise periods. Your exercise can be as simple as a walk around your neighborhood or a swim in a pool. The most important thing about exercise is making it a regular part of your life.

Remember, talk to your doctor before starting an exercise program. It is important that he or she knows the symptoms you experience when you exercise in order to select the best exercise plan for you. Ask him or her to develop an "Asthma Action Plan" for you. Warm up before you begin exercising and cool down when you are finished. Follow your doctor's advice and hopefully asthma won't prevent you from enjoying the benefits of a physically active life. For more information on asthma, check out


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