Medical questions & health advice by board certified doctors
"How would I know if I had asthma?"
Lately when I've been exercising, I feel like I can't breathe sometimes and have to stop. My chest feels really tight and I can't catch my breath. I'm 29 and have never had this happen before. Is it possible that I have asthma and have never known it? I just started exercising a lot in the last month.
It sounds like you may have exercise induced asthma, which is triggered by vigorous exercise. Exercise induced asthma is common and shares qualities of other forms of asthma. Symptoms are as you have described (shortness of breath and noisy inspiratory wheezes). Exercise induced asthma does not appear to have inflammatory changes that you see in other forms of asthma. The pathogenesis for this condition is not entirely clear, but it is thought that the blood vessels lining the bronchial tree get constricted leading to bronchial constriction. Asthma comes in a wide range of spectrum from mild with minimal symptoms to severe reaction leading to death. Asthma and other respiratory diseases can have many triggers, but the most common etiology is tobacco use. On average, asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases (COPD) are much higher in smokers. Even second-hand smokers can be at very high risk for developing respiratory diseases. If you have not already, you should follow up with a primary care physician for further evaluation. He or she may refer you to a pulmonologist who may order pulmonary function tests with attention to your responses to cold and environmental triggers. Your doctors will then choose from a wide selection of medications/inhalers specifically for your need. You may have heard of albuterol (a common inhaler most asthmatic patients use) which can provide a fast symptomatic relief.