Ask the Doctor: ‘I am fit and healthy, but have just been diagnosed with adult asthma. I had it as a child, but ‘grew out’ of it — could this happen again?’
All your burning health questions answered by the professionals.
“My doctor has just diagnosed me with asthma and I am really surprised. I am a regular runner and besides the diagnosis, I am fit and healthy. I had asthma as a child, but I ‘grew out’ of it. Could the same be said for my adult diagnosis and do I need to alter my exercise routine?”
Answer from Professor Seamus Linnane, Deputy Medical Director of Beacon Hospital, Consultant In Respiratory & General Internal Medicine
Asthma is an inflammation of the lining of the airway causing cough, breathlessness and wheeze. Ireland has one of the highest rates of asthma in the world. Over 20% of Irish children have an episode of asthma diagnosed by a doctor. This falls to less than 10% of adults.
In children boys are more commonly affected while in adults women are more commonly affected, at least in terms of admissions to hospital. Roughly half of childhood asthma disappears during puberty. However the asthma returns in about half of those who grew out of it. This is your experience as you report growing out of your childhood asthma only to find it came back again as an adult. In reality it never really went away.
Genetically you are the same person now as you were when you were a child. Hormonal, environmental and other changes means it simply stops causing symptoms, sometimes as in your case for many years.
The return of your asthma is a common experience. It does not indicate that you are unfit, unhealthy or have made poor lifestyle decisions. It simply is a reflection of the fact that you had childhood asthma and there was a good chance of it recurring in later life.
GINA, the Global Initiative for Asthma aims to maintain normal activity levels for asthma sufferers. You have already made a great health decision by running regularly. Well controlled asthma should not interfere with this. Work with your doctor to identify your asthma triggers; cold air, infections, pollens or pollution. Find out if you need a reliving inhaler occasionally or should you be taking a preventative inhaler every day. Some athletes find that physical activity can trigger their asthma. This is actually quite rare and can be managed by taking inhalers before you run.
You have taken the most important step and identified that your asthma has returned. You now need to establish the best approach for controlling this common condition; avoiding triggers, occasional medications or regular medications such as inhalers. This will allow you to continue to exercise without restriction which will prolong your life and enhance your wellbeing.