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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Yes, exercise can spark an asthma attack

Paul G. Donohue, M.D. King Features Syndicate

Dear Dr. Donohue: My son plays high-school basketball. I attended one of his games with a friend who happens to be a nurse. Twice during the game, my son became quite winded and started coughing. He had to be taken out for a rest. My friend thinks he might have asthma. How do I get him tested for it? If he has it, will he have to stop athletics? That would break his heart. — K.K.

Answer: Your friend suggests your son might have exercise-induced asthma, and most of the people who have it have asthma attacks only upon exercising. It’s not rare. It affects up to 20 percent of the general population.

Rapid breathing engendered by exercise cools and dries the airways. That’s a stimulus for some people’s airways to abruptly narrow and obstruct the flow of air into and out of the lungs.

Coughing and wheezing are symptoms. However, many react with more subtle symptoms, like chest tightness or unwarranted fatigue. Symptoms appear during exercise or sometime after exercise. They usually go away in 30 to 60 minutes.

If your family doctor believes your son’s symptoms might be due to exercise-induced asthma, the doctor can exercise him in the office to precipitate an attack and then measure his breathing function.

If your son does have the condition, his days of playing sports are not over. One simple way of combating airway narrowing is to breathe only through the nose. The nose warms and humidifies air before it reaches the airways. If need be, asthma medicines, inhaled from a spray, can prevent these attacks. Do have your son checked. Your friend might have made a good call.


Dear Dr. Donohue: I have six kids, and two of them have really stretchy skin. They can, and do, pull the skin out about 4 inches. Is it normal to have skin like that? — L.W.

Answer: Have these children examined by the family doctor. They could have Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. People who have it have extremely elastic skin and often lax joints. There are nine or more varieties of the syndrome, and some feature heart valve and blood vessel problems.

You need to know if your children have the syndrome so precautions can be taken for the dangerous varieties of it.


Dear Dr. Donohue: A mosquito can transmit malaria and West Nile fever. Why can’t a mosquito transmit the AIDS virus? — S.Y.

ANSWER: If you consider the entire catalog of germs, you find that mosquitoes spread only a very few. Only a handful of germs can survive in the mosquito. The AIDS virus is not one of them.