Is That You Wheezing?

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 ìgo to your chestî 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 breath)
  • Disturbed sleep due to coughing or wheezing
  • Progressively increasing use of inhalers.

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

  • Allergies
  • Weather changes (barometric pressure, humidity, and temperature).
  • Air pollution, smoke (cigarette, or wood), chemical or fuel vapors, fumes, or even perfumes and other scents.
  • Dust.
  • Heartburn (reflux esophagitis)
  • Exercise
  • Colds and other respiratory infections
  • Physical or emotional stress

Questions? Call
UIS Campus Health Service (217)206-6676