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Asthma

Lungs feel like they get smaller and smaller

09/30/2008

Question:

I have mild intermittant asthma. I don`t usually take medications, only when I have symptoms, which is usually only when I get a cold or the flu.

Lately I experienced something different. When I do even just a mild amount of exercise, like mowing the lawn or walking a couple of blocks, sometimes it feels like my lungs start getting smaller and smaller until there is almost no room to take in a breath of air.

I didn`t even think of that as asthma at first because I was not coughing or wheezing, my usual asthma symptoms. But one time when this happened I felt like I was hardly getting any air at all, and almost in desperation I tried using my inhaler and wow, almost instantly, like within 30 seconds, it was like my lungs completely relaxed and I could breathe again. Is this what they call exercise induced asthma? Could that be brought on just by very mild exercise, like walking briskly for a minute or 2?

Answer:

This certainly could be exercise-induced asthma, but it is a little atypical as it usually takes 15 minutes at least of exercise to trigger an episode of exercise-induced asthma.  It could also be something called vocal cord dysfunction where the vocal cords suddenly close which produces symptoms of difficulty getting air in, cough, tightness in the upper chest, etc.  The fact that you got immediate relief from your inhaler suggests that this was exercise-induced asthma.  I would recommend getting formal testing to document this diagnosis.  Ask your doctor next time you see him/her.

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Response by:

Jonathan P Parsons, MD, MSc Jonathan P Parsons, MD, MSc
Clinical Associate Professor
Pulmonary, Allergy, Critical Care & Sleep
College of Medicine
The Ohio State University