Health Column: A strong defense vs. asthma attacks

Carrie Miller
Carrie Miller

The winter season tends to keep people indoors, depriving them of the sun’s vitamin D-filled rays. And recent studies have linked defi ciencies in vitamin D to a wide range of conditions — among them an increase in severe asthma reactions.

More than 25 million people in the U.S. suffer from asthma and close to 7 million of them are children, according to the National Institutes of Health.

People diagnosed with asthma suffer from an in-flammation of the bronchial tubes, or airways, triggered by outside factors, including allergies. When irritated, the muscles around the bronchial tubes spasm or tighten, causing an increase in fl uid and mucus production, which builds up in airways, making it diffi cult to breathe.

“What’s interesting is that generally people put asthma and wheezing together, but wheezing is generally a late symptom,” said Dr. James Rubin, chief of the allergy division at Mount Sinai Beth Israel Medical Center, who will give an informational lecture about living with asthma at Peconic Landing on Friday, Feb. 28. “Their fi rst symptom is coughing.”

Coughing is followed by shortness of breath, which eventually leads to wheezing, he said. At its most severe, tightening in the bronchial tubes leads to asthma attacks.

Irritation can result from the stresses of physical activity, illness or common allergens, such as ragweed or cat dander, which are the cause about half the time.

Depending on the severity of their condition, asthmatics who do not manage and treat their illness properly could fi nd themselves in the emergency room — which Dr. Rubin says occurs far too frequently.

Often, he said, it happens because patients stop taking medications when they shouldn’t.

“Medications shouldn’t be stopped just because a person with a history of asthma is feeling good,” he said. “It’s estimated 3,000 people a year die from asthma [attacks] in the U.S., and people lose track of that fact.”

Two types of medication are associated with managing asthma: controller medications, which are taken regularly to minimize reactions, and rescue medications, such as adrenaline, that are administered to ease the effects of an attack by opening airways, Dr. Rubin said.

Recent NIH studies have shown that taking a vitamin D supplement can help decrease the risk of infections, which can also trigger asthma flareups, he said.

At his Friday lecture, Dr. Rubin will discuss new research and explain how asthma’s effects on the airways impact quality of life.

“It is easier to prevent an attack from happening as opposed to helping someone recover,” he said.

Dr. Rubin’s lecture, sponsored by Eastern Long Island Hospital and Peconic Landing, starts at 3 p.m. in the Peconic Landing community center.

Got a health question or column idea? Email Carrie Miller at [email protected] .

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