During a martial art class, many of us have seen a student stopping to use an inhaler. Asthma is primarily a childhood disease that affects 3-5 percent of the American population. Fifty percent of these asthmatics begin having symptoms during childhood and, of those, half will no longer have the disease by young adulthood. So chances are that there will be at least one asthmatic in your martial art class. Asthma is characterized by recurrent spasm of the airways induced by certain "triggers" or stimuli, such as allergens (such as molds, animal dander, and pollen), cold, emotional stress, respiratory infections, irritants (such as smoke, perfume, or dust), and, of major concern to us, exercise. Airway sensitivity to these triggers causes acute episodes of asthmatic symptoms in susceptible persons. Persons with long-term or chronic asthma also suffer from chronic airway inflammation.
Symptoms of asthma include cough, chest tightness, shortness of breath, and wheezing. Wheezing occurs because of acute airway spasm, which decreases the opening of the airway resulting in less air entering the lungs. As the wheezing worsens, inflammatory cells enter the lining of the airways and cause swelling and mucous production, which leads to increasing shortness of breath, chest tightness, and cough. Of the many stimuli that trigger an asthma attack, Taekwondo students are most concerned with exercise. Most asthmatics suffer from exercise-induced asthma, but there are some individuals who suffer symptoms only during exercise.
Symptoms of exercised-induced asthma are similar to general asthma and usually occur with moderate to intense exercise. Cooling and drying of the airway, which occurs with an increase rate of breathing, is thought to cause an exercise-induced asthma attack. During normal breathing while at rest, we breathe through our noses. Our noses moisten, warm, and filter the air that we breathe. As we exercise, our breathing rate increases and we open our mouths to get more air into the lungs. Breathing through the mouth bypasses the nose so that dry, cool air is taken into the lungs.
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