Difference between breathlessness, and an Asthma Attack?

Hi all,

Newbie here. I'm taking a few days off at the moment, after I almost fainted at work.

This was after I cycled into work, and was breathless and coughing for 10 / 15 minutes. The thing is, I thought that I was just trying to catch my breath after a hard cycle in, I didn't realise (until something obviously was't right), that there was something a bit more going on... I'd turned white, shaking, pins and needles in arms, high pulse, that sort of thing.

I guess my question is, if you're sometimes used to be being breathless after exercise, how do you tell the difference between being whats normal and something more like an asthma attack?

Andy

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  • Hi all,

    Newbie here. I'm taking a few days off at the moment, after I almost fainted at work.

    This was after I cycled into work, and was breathless and coughing for 10 / 15 minutes. The thing is, I thought that I was just trying to catch my breath after a hard cycle in, I didn't realise (until something obviously was't right), that there was something a bit more going on... I'd turned white, shaking, pins and needles in arms, high pulse, that sort of thing.

    I guess my question is, if you're sometimes used to be being breathless after exercise, how do you tell the difference between being whats normal and something more like an asthma attack?

    Andy

    The pins and needles you mention may be due to a blood circulation restriction. This might be caused by your blood being too thick for your heart to cope with. Your GP can sort that out one way or another so you might be put on medication to thin your blood. If your blood pressure is also found to be unusually high then some more tablets might be prescribed to keep it under control. If your heart is struggling due to a circulation problem then your respiratory rate would increase and might seem like an asthma attack. You can get a blood pressure checker from any chemist and use it to monitor your pressures.

  • Hi Andy,

    I'm fairly new to asthma but I had a similar experience to yours last year. I ran a half marathon and I felt okay (or so I thought!) but an hour later I suddenly developed severe breathing difficulties and went from standing talking to my friends to unable to talk, walk, going blue, ect in the space of 5 mins. Because of this I took a lot of salbutamol (about 14 puffs of ventolin while I waited for the paramedics to arrive) - I imagine maybe you also took more of your reliever than you're used to when your symptoms of breathlessness/coughing began?

    According to the doctors (I was taken to hospital) the extremely high heart rate I developed was a side effect of having taking so much salbutamol as well as due to the fact that my body was working so hard to breathe. As I hadn't ever been that bad before, my worried dad asked if I shouldn't have taken so much of my inhaler because he was worried about my heart rate, to which the doctor replied ""ABSOLUTELY NOT, she's far more likely to have stopped breathing than have given herself a heart attack from too much salbutamol!"" Probably good advice!

    As for the pins and needles, I had that too. The doctor said is was due to hyperventilation, which is apparently quite a normal thing for asthmatics to do during an attack, especially if you're not used to having attacks. The difficultly of breathing coupled with fear can make you breathe too fast and you can blow off too much carbon dioxide, which causes numbness and pins and needles. Sounds like this might have been what happened to you too. Google ""respiratory alkalosis"".

    As for early warning signs, that's something I struggle with too, especially as you said when you're expecting to be a bit breathless after exercise. From what I've noticed my friends at running recover within a few minutes of exercise, and so do I if my asthma isn't a factor. However, my asthma is a problem, I sometimes feel more out of breath a few minutes after exercise than when I just stopped, whereas my friends' breathing will be almost back to normal by then. If the breathlessness is getting worse and not better when you finish exercising, that's probably asthma and not just normal breathlessness. If you take your reliever and it helps, then it was almost certainly asthma!

    For me, coughing after exercise is a reliable sign that something is wrong. I cough and cough and can't catch my breath in between! On the day of my bad attack I just described, there was an hour between my run and my asthma attack, during which I thought I was fine. Looking back though, I had been coughing a lot and though I had taken my inhaler a few times during the hour, I didn't really take it seriously as it was quite normal for me to cough a lot after exercise and I never expected things to get so bad as that had never happened in the past. So my advice would be to use your reliever as soon as you feel breathless/start to cough, ect and if this is a common thing for you after exercise, perhaps go and see your GP. I was given a combination inhaler (steroid + LABA) instead of a basic steroid one and my asthma is now much better - I now realise it's not normal to cough for hours on end when I finish a running race as that hardly ever happens now !!!

    Hope that's of some help, and hope you feel better soon,

    Jen

  • oh my goodness jen you have just described me to a tee!!!! The only difference is that i've never had a bad attack like yours but i'm a bit worried cos i have also entered for my first half marathon next year!

    I ALWAYS cough after i run - as it happens i did a 10k race at 11am this morning an it's now 21:30 and i'm still coughing but this is normal for me. I have already had 12 puffs of my inhaler since i finished the race and will probably need at least another couple to help me sleep.

    I have a physio who i see on a thursday, after i've run 5k on wednesday night then swum 2k before i've seen her so when i go my asthma is almost always a big issue - and her treatment often makes it worse too (as she treats it hurts so i tense & hold my breath so when she relaxes her pressure i also relax and breathe and end up coughing!!)

    Not sure if it's a good thing or not but she is also a runner and asthmatic AND trained in respiratory medicine with a special interest in asthma management - it's what she used to do before she went into full-time 'normal' physio.

    Because of this she keeps having a go at me about my asthma, my review is on 30th october and last thursday she was determined i should be seen earlier and suggested i may need a short course of pred. As it happens i already had a full box of pred after a cock-up with the doctor last year so she said she'd make a deal with me - i take the steroids or i go and be seen!! Needless to say it's easier to take the pred.

    She has also suggested i need a combination inhaler and has told me to ask for seretide when i go to my review. The funniest thing is that the girl on the desk at physio is also asthmatic and she's been trying to persuade me to do something about it - there's no escaping LOL

    Sorry for hi-jacking your thread andy

  • jinglfairy,

    I know everybody is different, but for me, I used to be on a clenil preventor and ventolin, but since switching to ventolin, symbicort and singulair I'm definitely much better. I still have occasional days when I cough and wheeze after training (particularly if it's windy, really cold or if I've been pushing myself really hard) but I'm definitely far better than I was and I rarely need to use ventolin now after I go out for a run. That said, I still need it almost every time I run a race - funnily enough though, I'm usually fine in half marathons, presumably because the pace is slower - 10ks or anything shorter are generally more of an issue!

    I agree with your physio, you should probably speak to your doctor as it does sound like your asthma isn't under the best control. As for your half marathon, I'd say go for it as long as your doctor says you can - half marathons are great fun and you get such a sense of achievement from finishing your first one!

    Since the half marathon when I was hospitalised, I've run two more half marathons and I ran my first full marathon last month with no problems - I love running! I spoke to my doctor before I began my marathon training, but they told me to go for it as long as I trained properly, built up my mileage slowly and gradually and kept a close eye on how I was feeling/peak flow.

    Take care,

    Jen

  • Thanks jen,

    I do intend to ask for different medication when i go for my review next week (i'm currently on qvar and airomir), i just hope the nurse doesn't say i need to see the dr for that cos it'll be mighty inconvenient! I'm thinking of ringing the Asthma UK advice line before i go - if i can say i've had advice from the specialist nurses that might hold more clout with the practice nurse rather than the advice of a random physio that they don't know (even though I trust her completely).

    I'm not really sure how my pace changes with distance, yesterday i was doing between 11:35 m/m to 13:00 m/m and 10k is my longest distance so far. HM training starts in the new year, the race isn't until June. I have no interest in a full marathon but i never even thought about asking the doctor whether running (at any distance) was a good idea or not, i will definitely ask now.

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