Asthma and lifestyle

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Being diagnosed with asthma can be an unsettling time for anyone. It can quickly lead to questions about how it will affect your lifestyle and whether you need to implement any changes.

This page discusses some of the most common topics highlighted by newly diagnosed asthmatics.

Can I continue my regular exercise routine?

On the whole, yes. Even with exercise-induced asthma, you should not avoid exercise.

Depending on the severity of your condition and the triggers that cause your symptoms you might have to introduce some precautions.

An example of this might be remembering to warm up before partaking in exercise. This is especially important if you exercise outdoors during cold weather as the change in heat can trigger asthma symptoms.

You may also need to use your preventer inhaler prior to exercising and aim to keep your asthma well-managed by following your asthma action plan. You might find that you are able to tolerate some exercises better than others.

Anaerobic exercises like tennis and volleyball use short bursts of exertion which might be preferable to sports such as football or distance running which require a longer period of activity. Every individual is different and so you should be able to find a form of exercise or sport which suits you and your abilities.

Do I have to alter my diet?

Not all asthmatics will have symptoms that are brought on by foods and so many are able to stick to their usual diet.

However, asthmatics whose symptoms are triggered by food allergens might need to make some changes to what they eat in order to accommodate their condition.

Common food types that are known to trigger asthma symptoms include shellfish, cow’s milk, egg, yeast products, and items containing preservatives and sulfates.

By eating a varied and well-balanced diet your body receives essential nutrients that can improve the immune system’s ability and help keep some illnesses at bay, including the common cold and flu.

Staying healthy and avoiding respiratory tract infections reduces the chance of asthma attacks.

Will I have to change jobs?

You should be able to remain in the same job, so long as carrying out your daily tasks is not detrimental to your health.

Employers cannot discriminate against you because you have asthma. However, there are some jobs that you might not be able to do safely. For example, it is not possible for the fire brigade and armed forces to employ asthmatics.

However, if you have not had an asthma attack for over four years, you can still apply for a job in sections of the armed forces.

The Equality Act 2010 helps protect people with health issues in the workplace.

Your new asthma diagnosis may lead to some changes to your role or work environment. Any adjustments should be reasonable given the circumstances and will need to be discussed with your manager or HR department.

If your asthma condition means that you have to take extended periods of time off work then you should speak to your company about their policy surrounding this.

If you feel comfortable then you might want to inform your employers about your condition and maybe let your colleagues know what to do should you experience an asthma attack whilst at work.

Occupational asthma is brought on by particular allergens that are not found outside of the workplace. Examples can range from the dust from the flour used in bakeries to the bleach used in hairdressers.

Once a trigger in the workplace has developed you should try and avoid it as much as possible. You may need to speak to your employer to see if there are any measures that they can take to try and reduce your symptoms.

How will my asthma affect me as I get older?

Many people associate asthma with younger people and so may be surprised to find out that you can develop it in later life.

Late-onset asthma, also known as adult onset asthma, can sometimes be difficult to diagnose due to similarities with other conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and emphysema.

Asthma symptoms can change as a person gets older. For some people, this may result in an improvement in their condition; whereas for others more severe symptoms might develop.

Commonly reported changes to include a worsened shortness of breath, medications not working as well as they used to and new asthma triggers and side effects developing.

If you notice any changes in your asthma condition or side effects you should speak to your doctor as soon as possible. This gives them the opportunity to check that you are using the most suitable medication and are adopting a good inhaler technique.

What government support is available?

Receiving a diagnosis for a long-term chronic condition can cause stress and worry, especially when it comes to thinking about your finances.

For those living with asthma concerns may be raised around paying for prescriptions, paying for travel to and from the hospital, and having to take time off work to attend appointments.

Personal Independence Payment (PIP) has recently replaced Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and is the government benefit scheme for people living with a long-term disability or health condition. You can find out more about PIP on the government website.

You may be eligible for government support if you are on a low income or receive Income-related Employment and Support Allowance, Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, Income Support, NHS Tax Credit Exemption Certificate, Pension Credit, or Universal Credit.

Many asthmatics in England qualify for free prescriptions but those who don’t qualify have the option to sign up for a Pre-Payment Certificate (PPC) which is a reduced monthly prescription payment scheme.

You may also be able to apply to the blue-badge scheme which allows severe asthmatics who struggle walking long distances to park for free for an unlimited amount of time.

Cold weather can be a significant trigger for some asthmatics and so it is useful to know that you might be able to apply for a cold weather payment to help with heating costs during the British winter months.

Asthmatics should be able to lead a happy and healthy life just like anyone else. If your asthma condition is impeding your quality of life then you should speak to your doctor. They may be able to make changes to your medication and asthma action plan as well as make recommendations about lifestyle.

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Tom Perry, M.D., attended Tulane University and graduated Magna Cum Laude with a B.S. degree in Parasitology. He received his M.D. degree in 1983 from the University of Virginia School of Medicine, where he gained extensive research experience, including studies conducted through the National Institutes of Health.