Is That You Wheezing?
By Jill Stoops APN/CNP UIS Campus Health Service
Do you have trouble
breathing in cold weather? Does walking up a long flight of
stairs or exercising cause your lungs to make a “musical sound”?
Do you feel short of breath after being exposed to cigarette
smoke or other air pollutants? Do colds typically “go to your
chest” when you get sick? If you have said yes to any of the
above questions you may have Reactive Airway Disease (RAD).
This was commonly called Asthma.
In 1995, 14.9 million
persons were affected by the chronic condition –Asthma. In
1998, this disease was estimated to cost 11.3 billion in direct
and indirect costs. Within the general population, asthma
affects more females than males and more African Americans than
whites. It is the cause of 1.5 million emergency department
visits, 500,000 hospitalizations, and 5,500 deaths. Yes, asthma
can kill. (http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov)
There are many triggers that
can cause your lungs to constrict its airways and cause you to
feel short of breath, cause coughing and that musical sound
called a “wheeze”. (See Figure 1.) Not all wheezing or
coughing is asthma though. There are a lot of other lung
diseases, as well as gastric reflux, which can cause some of the
same symptoms as an asthma attack.
People with a reactive
airway are more sensitive to irritation than normal. This
hypersensitivity leads to inflammation and swelling in the tiny
airways deep in the lungs. This inflammation causes excess
mucous production and tightening of the airway muscles that
narrow the airway passages. The combination of airway
narrowing, excess mucous and swelling, causes the whistling
sounds and labored breathing in an attack called wheezing.
Nobody knows exactly why
some people are more sensitive than others. Genetics do play a
role as well as the association with allergies. Asthma or
reactive airway disease (RAD) can develop at any age. Some
people notice a difference when they move to a new location and
are exposed to different environmental substances.
Treatment starts with
prevention. You cannot prevent the condition, but by avoiding
or preventing exposure to triggering factors, one can prevent
the actual asthma attacks (Figure 1.). Treatment also includes
medication to relieve the attacks. This includes anti-allergy
medications if triggers are environmental allergens, inhalers to
re-open constricted airways and decrease inflammation, and / or
antacids if heartburn is a trigger for your attacks.
All asthmatics should be
evaluated regularly by a healthcare professional for assistance
in the overall control of the condition.
Warning signs include:
Shortness of breath or rapid
breathing even at rest
Chest wall retraction
(seeing the muscles between the ribs sucked inwards with each
Disturbed sleep due to
coughing or wheezing
Progressively increasing use
Have you noticed any
wheezing or difficulty breathing lately? Come to a “Lung
Function” screening to help determine if you have a problem that
needs medical attention. The UIS Campus Health Service is
sponsoring the Capital Area Asthma Coalition and the Sangamon
County Department of Public Health to perform FREE lung function
testing on November 3, from 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. in the
PAC C&D. The tests will be interpreted by Dr. Ingrid
Alexander. If you have any questions about the screenings, call
the UIS Campus Health Service at 206-6676.
Common Triggering Factors For Asthma
changes (barometric pressure,
humidity, and temperature).
- Air pollution,
smoke (cigarette, or wood), chemical
or fuel vapors, fumes, or even
perfumes and other scents.
- Colds and
other respiratory infections
- Physical or