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When is asthma asthma and when asthma not asthma?

Wheezycat profile image

Hi all!

My conundrum is more mundane than it sounds above. For the first time ever I have felt tight chested this winter when I go out in cold, especially if also damp. But is it that or am I just unfit? Just now I am truly reluctant to walk any distance outside if it cold and damp as I feel so uncomfortable. But could it be that I haven’t been active enough for two or so weeks? How do you tell the difference?

It is new to me (and I find it especially annoying as I grew up in a far colder climate and was fine), and I don’t enjoy the sensation, but as usual I doubt myself, or doubt they are asthma related.

I don’t really expect anyone to come up with the perfect answer to this, as it is vague, but am interested what conclusions anyone else might have come to.

And, yes, I do do the scarfe thingie. And hat and gloves and so on.

32 Replies

Hi if you have been diagnosed with asthma then feeling tight chested is one of the symptoms as is coughing when breathing in cold air and feeling tired.

It can be very hard to distinguish this from old age or being not as fit so I am not sure of the answers but that's what I think. x

I have an interesting story around that... My mother and father in law live up a very steep hill and when visiting them it's quite a climb (parking is at the bottom and they live three quarters of the way up) one day I was walking up and huffing and puffing like a 90 year old (I was 28 at the time)... i decided i was unfit and needed to get fit so i started excercising and eating less and healtnier. later on that year I had some unexplained chest tightness (id had asthma as a child and not for ages, I mean year's and years had I used an Inhaler) and it resulted in a rather nasty coughing fit leaving me unable to stand or stop coughing so I went to urgent care who where concerned about my heart rate... after a long amount of waiting and different doctors various tests (over the next 6 or so months) it was asthma that was back and causing me problems anyway a nice treatment regime later and I can now walk up that same hill without much huffing or feeling like my head is going to explode.... I guess it was asthma all along for me at least

Asthma is a complicated illness & I've lost count of the number of times in my life I've had (probably quite well-meaning) people laughing & saying I need to cut down on the pies (which of course, I do, but that's not the point).

It is really important not to doubt yourself because the danger is you head down a dangerous path. It is (in my opinion) really important that you challenge yourself to be fit, that this is not going to run your life for you, that you have choices & so on, but it's a horrible illness that messes with the single most important function of your body.

As an example, even though I've never known life without asthma, around the time I was in my late 40s, turning 50, I noticed that my breathing was noticeably worse. I knew some of it was asthma but put it down to a run of bad luck, and I kept saying to myself that I needed more exercise & so on. In fact, my asthma had taken a serious downturn but I wasted maybe 2 years; all of which my wife was nagging me to get further tests because she knew I wasn't right.

The cold air thing & scarf thing is always a bit of a contentious one in asthma circles. I'm obviously quite lucky to live in the beautiful, endless sunshine that is Huddersfield, but I know that cold air has always done for me. However, I simply can't put a scarf over my face as I actually feel even worse. I've sort of developed my own technique for trying to 'grab' warm air, but it's not perfect.

If I could wind the clock back 40 or so years, to when I really started to think about asthma rather than just accept it as something I was stuck with, I'd have tried to learn a lot more about what the symptoms are, and mean, and what my body is telling me, so you're on a journey whereby you largely have to do the same.

And don't be scared of life!

Try using your blue inhaler and if you get good relief it's asthma.

Good idea! It is obvious, isn’t it. I am on SMART, so I don’t always carry my Ventolin with me, but I will change that today when going out. It feels easier than Symbicort.

If I am with others, I struggle with taking my inhaler out, as it seems as if I am bringing too much attention to myself. Stupid, I know, but there it is.

If you're on SMART try using your symbicort as a reliever prior to exercise. See if this works. Then you don't need to use it in front of people.

Also a good idea, except it is only short walks I refer to, hardly what I would call proper excercise, and it only happens, it seems, if the air is cold. But I could coordinate my moves better. First need to be really sure it is happening, my research stage.

That’s always a tough one. Even now, I often feel self conscious even to family. I worry people will think I’m attention seeking or feeble or whatever. It can be quite a struggle to take inhalers in public. The old Intal ones made a terrible racket as well & at school the whole class would look & stare if I had to take it! But it’s what you have to do at times & I think in reality most people are familiar nowadays with seeing inhalers.

I have asthma which seems to be on a major flair up since September and yet I am a fitness instructor teaching 15 classes a week (used to be over 30) and I did that no problem at all, so I know I am ‘fit’ but since my asthma has flared up and when it’s at it’s worst I can’t teach at all as my lungs will not allow it.

Not a huge answer to your question but I think what I’m trying to say is when your asthma is controlled you should be able to do most things including fitness, but you need to be aware of your triggers, and cold air seems to be a trigger for me particularly now my asthma is uncontrolled.

Ramble over, as to all of us, good luck

Mari x

PS I called the asthma uk nurses the other day and honestly I cannot day enough how brilliant the lady I spoke to was so if in doubt give them a call.

Lysistrata profile image
LysistrataCommunity Ambassador

I know this feeling. I have never been especially sporty but 6/7 years ago when I really started to have problems, I was walking more slowly than an arthritic old lady, getting out of breath and very tired incredibly easily. Absolutely no one except my GP at the time seemed to think it was odd for a 25 year old to have that much trouble just walking and I was constantly told it either wasn't an actual problem or I was just deconditioned - I was used to walking everywhere and zipping round the Tube even if I didn't do sports, and I was not obese.

I was sent for a cardiac exercise test by a cardiologist I was referred to because my heart rate increased so much when I did even a bit of walking (my HR now does tbis with minimal exertion during attacks). He told me it was all anxiety (I didn't even feel anxious). I managed 3.5 minutes of the treadmill test and then they stopped it because I was too breathless. This is a test where they reasonably expect relatively unfit middle aged people with suspected heart problems to at least be able to complete 15 mins. But no one other than the people doing the test actually seemed to think this was odd for a 25 year old who was a normal weight with average fitness.

It got better when I found some asthma medication which worked - and then came right back temporarily when i had to.stop them for a test. My asthma is more severe now with hospital admissions etc and one of the signs for me is finding it harder to walk and going more slowly. I do try to keep up my fitness by at least walking as much as possible (physio advised moderate intensity exercise, I am awful at going to the gym though so try to build it in daily). I get much less of the 'you are just unfit' now I have confirmed severe asthma but it does creep in. I find it difficult because I know I could maybe do better on the fitness and it does go by the wayside with work plus frequent flares. However, my view is that normal people without asthma wouldn't find their fitness fluctuating as much as mine does - if I were just unfit I wouldn't find I can walk normally and do lots then suddenly can do much less! I also think I never had some of these difficulties back when asthma was not a major problem (very mild then) but I still didn't do sport etc - I could happily plunge into cold water then after a year away from the sea, swim around and be fine even as an overweight teenager who hated sport, but now it is noticeably hard.

Sorry for the rambling post but hope that helps show you that a lot of us struggle with this. I constantly feel guilty for not doing more and wonder if I am just lazy.

Wheezycat profile image
Wheezycat in reply to Lysistrata

Thank you for your long reply, and also to all the others. It is always good to hear others share experiences, and that ‘feeling a bit whimpish’ is not just me.

I had the opposite experience the other day. The place I do a few hours per week work (I am an old woman so I don’t work full time), is being redecorated. Unfortunately they use oil based paint which I find irritating. The staff there have been really good at helping me find rooms as far from the current painting as possible, and that way I have managed.

But the other day I met one of the decorators and asked him why they used oil based paints and explained my difficulties. He immediately responded how irritated he gets when people first say ‘asthma’ and then are spotted smoking. I found this annoying as I don’t smoke and never have (just never developed a habit). Overall it was just a ‘well, you just have to put up with it’ attitude, as if I was being whiney. I told him I have a cousin who would require medical intervention. He shrugged his shoulders. I think we can call it an unsatisfactory outcome.

I don’t think this attitude is unusual, but I find it irritating nonetheless.

Lysistrata profile image
LysistrataCommunity Ambassador in reply to Wheezycat

Ugh. I haven't met anyone who is that combative yet, but it would annoy me too. I am pretty sensitive to paint too (it could land me in hospital if I had to be near it for very long) and also to perfumes, air fresheners etc. I find the attitude I get with that for people who don't understand or haven't seen the effects (loud and, I am told, scary to.watch) is usually 'oh I quite like the smell of paint'. I then have to try and explain that it isn't about whether I like it personally - if it didn't make me unable to breathe I actually like it too!

With air freshener it tends to be people who say well yes but we have to get rid of the smell and again seem to think it's about preference. I don't like smelly toilets either but a standard bad toilet smell isn't generally going to put someone in hospital or.make them need to take medication, whereas the air freshener can do that to me - or make things very uncomfortable for a while!

It seems this effect isn't well known as I have even encountered staff in A and E wearing strong scents which can be a nightmare.

Wheezycat profile image
Wheezycat in reply to Lysistrata

So agree! My cousin, well, cousin’s wife is very sensitive. She works as a teacher, one one colleague not bothering to take the ban - yes, there is one in her school - can mean she needs medical intervention. I am not that sensitive, but I notice and dislike it in a way I never used to.

As for air fresheners - must admit I put in a comment/complaint in our local hospital after they had installed them in all toilets.

I became a captive audience using my work toilets. I was in a cubicle..um..using the facilities, when someone came in and started to spray something in the room! My lungs complained and I had to finish what I was doing, get decent and get hands washed and get out all with having great difficulty breathing. I barrelled out of that room and practically into the arms of another colleague who instantly realised what was happening as I was opening mouth and no sound coming out when trying to explain....just gasping for air. I think I was eventually able to gasp "Perfume!" and "spray", before coughing badly.

Colleague was lovely - walked me slowly to my desk ready to catch if I fell. Went all the way back to the staff room to get lovely cooling water from the water fountain for me. Sat with me as I got my breathing under control and then informed my TL so they were aware I may have difficulties for the day. I was shaky after due to ventolin but was able to stay in work, though left at 4pm.

Wheezycat profile image
Wheezycat in reply to ElizabethC

I am glad you recovered! It sounds horrible. Has there been any awareness in your workplace about avoiding perfume? I have had to ask people to reduce their use - and they have.

Lysistrata profile image
LysistrataCommunity Ambassador in reply to Wheezycat

Ugh that sounds horrible! I have had similar at work. My own colleagues have always been very good as they know me, but we share the building with other companies and in the office we were in before, there weren't many toilets. It was pretty difficult when people used them to get ready in before a night out and we also had periodic issues with air freshener - the cleaner kept adding it and taking down a sign we made and put up asking people not to spray. I started hiding the spray cans lol... and there was a wonderful incident where my colleague actually removed the wall-mounted unit hehe.

ElizabethC profile image
ElizabethC in reply to Wheezycat

Hi Wheezycat and Lysistrata

It is a rule NOT to wear too strong a perfume and there are three people who are known to do so (two of which also smoke), but its difficult to ban entirely especially in the bathrooms. There are a few single toilets I can use and one which was out of order is now back in order so I prefer to use that one.

Smoking has been banned within 10 yards of the building now so thats much better. My work have been very proactive and incredibly supportive. They have offered to have people do my filing when its in a very dusty room, but I've found a good mask for asthma and that has helped a lot.

Wheezycat profile image
Wheezycat in reply to ElizabethC

Great to hear you have such great support from work! Other employers cou,d probably learn from them!

Lysistrata profile image
LysistrataCommunity Ambassador in reply to Wheezycat

I am very glad to have left the old office - we used to have constant roadworks with an accompanying line of chain-smoking builders sitting on the front steps despite the signs saying not to. The smoke would come in at the open windows (along eith the air pollution) so it was everyone boil or me suffocate- very tolerant colleagues! Nothing anyone could really do.

I hsve had comments that my asthma seems better in the new building. I have to agree - it is still not controlled but a little more subdued! I have had no admissions since we moved and coming up to a record of nearly 5 months without one! (I did come very close in December but that doesm't count :p )

ElizabethC, very glad your employers ard vigilant. It really does help to have the support - I think mine letting me work from home if I need to has really helped. Moving jobs soonish and very nervous about how a new employer and colleagues will be. I have had to learn to be firm on some things without feeling I am making an unnecessary fuss, and it took a while.


I’m just going to say I’m from the US. Until a lot of people are familiar with me. I know I’m rambling a bit here first, I guess this page is sent to me because I joined here before I did the US one. And, so, here I am. At least I’m familiar with Ventolin. My inhaler is Proair/albuterol. The rescue one, that is. I’m not familiar with SMART. I’m older than most of you right here, I feel. When I was young I lived on the east coast, and I was made fun of because of my asthma, and this was before any inhalers for me. I moved to the midwest, and it was very common, I got an inhaler, and felt the same way about using it. Felt very uncomfortable using it in public. But I got a bit more comfortable. But I was still a teenager. Then I go and move back to the east coast. By then more people had it, plus most people don’t care. You think they do because you feel insecure. Plus darn it, you can’t breathe! But most people are preoccupied with themselves. Even if you bring it up to them, and not by yelling “Hey, what are you looking at?!” Lol. They usually say something completely different. Like they were thinking about what they were going to do that night, etc. My asthma has recently gotten worse. But I’m trying to get used to using a nebulizer regularly. And just found out I have mild sleep apnea. So dealing with a CPAP machine too. Well, that’s way more than you were talking about. All you can do, is take the best care of you. Because you’re the only one of you there is...

Wheezycat profile image
Wheezycat in reply to Lori62

Welcome to this group. There will be differences, as medicines are different, or rather, have different names, and as your health care system is different. Apart from that I am sure we will get in fine!

Lori62 profile image
Lori62 in reply to Wheezycat

Hi Wheezycat! Thanks for the welcome. Yes, there are a lot of differences, but the way we feel, with not being able to breathe, the aches, whether in our lungs, or throats or backs, wherever, we suffer the same. So, I’m glad to be here!

Did you ever find Symbicort to make your lungs open more, but at the same time feel kinda more achey? Whenever I take Symbicort (200/6 SMART), my lungs usually react to them and get sore and then get better about 30 min later again. I ugh.

Oh, goodness! I had to look back at what the original post was as it is two years old! But that in itself was interesting as I can see the issues I originally outlined, and still do, only worse. A good reminder!

I never felt tight chested on Symbicort, but I did find that my PF would drop slightly after taking it, then get really good a couple of hours or more later. So that may be similar to you, just not so strong. Something clearly irritated. I was changed from Symbicort to Fostair a few months ago, as I was (and am) getting recurring thrush, not at all badly but there all the same. So now I use Fostair with a spacer. Unfortunately that hasn’t taken care of the thrush.

I really empathize with you as regards whether you have asthma or not.I was diagnosed after I had a cold and was finding it hard to breathe and wheezing I was taken to hospital and diagnosed with ASTHMA I still don't think I have it as I have no symptoms at all but am on Fostair med which I know is not really good for long time side effects but I am scared to come off it.I answered a load of questions and that was that -I am asthmatic!!??

Wheezycat profile image
Wheezycat in reply to happyjill

Hi Happyjill! I had to look back, as I posted this 3 years ago! Like you I ended up in hospital suddenly, back in 2016, and there was absolutely no doubt it was asthma, and it had been diagnosed a couple of years earlier, but I was never sure I wasn’t just making a fuss about nothing. My friend, a doctor, and our daughter, an asthmatic, both were relieved I was hospitalised, as they had seen - and heard - it for ages, but I was blaming/shaming myself when I struggled with walking uphill, say, rather than take the reality aboard. Also it is in the family.

As for walking out in the cold, that is still an issue. I can now manage it if I first take Ventolin, wrap something round my mouth and nose and walk at snail pace, and then I can really enjoy it! But I now also have other things that trigger asthma, like indoor air pollution, airways infections, and other, more intermittent stuff.

The point of medication is to get you to a place where you don’t have any problems, or feel problems, at least most of the time. I am at that point much of the time, but not always. And asthma, of course, can damage your body so it is really well worth being very careful. If you are unsure, why not talk to you GP or local asthma nurse, or talk to the Asthma U.K. nurses. Unfortunately I don’t have their number in my head, but it is Asthma U.K. website. When I first got properly unwell with it, they really talked me through it, and took a lot of time with me. They are great!

happyjill profile image
happyjill in reply to Wheezycat

how very kind of you to reply Wheezycat(!) you have summed it all up so well and I actually feel ready to accept my diagnosis now .You have helped me very much so I send you my sincere thanks and blessings,may you and your loved ones thrive in every possible way 💐

Wheezycat profile image
Wheezycat in reply to happyjill

Oh, bless you! I just used to feel I was making a fuss about nothing, and have also at times since then. Also I don’t wholly trust myself to be able to really assess my own state of asthma due to these feelings, and because I had probably really lived with it for a long time, gradually and slowly succumbing to it, but so slowly my body compensated and I did not consciously recognise it. I am better at it, and of course I know when it is bad, but when it is just a bit, not really bad, it is another matter.

haha-- so it seems we are never alone !--you sound so much like myself !- we are a funny old lot aren't we ,have a good day ,it is raining here and blowing a hoolie ! so I probably won't go out ,keep safe and very best wishes x

Wheezycat profile image
Wheezycat in reply to happyjill

We are redecorating..........much needed, but two nights running I woke up coughing and needing Ventolin in the small hours. However, not last night......go figure.

happyjill profile image
happyjill in reply to Wheezycat

I cant belkieve this my husband is decorating too !! I am not best pleased he is doing the bedroom walls at the moment and ofcoutrse with the rain we cannot open the windows to let it dry! it will be the back bedroom for me tonight ! hope you are pleased with the finished results !x

Wheezycat profile image
Wheezycat in reply to happyjill

Very pleased! We only use low VOC paints, but even with them I can feel it albeit slightly only. Yesterday I painted wearing a quality mask - which has otherwise become my kitchen/cooking mask....

I can’t use solvent based/high VOC paints at all, or being near them. Indoor air pollution is a real thing for me.