Q. I’m 50 years old, and lately I’ve been wheezing when I play tennis. Can I get asthma at my age?
A. You can get asthma as an adult, without ever having had it in childhood. And your wheezing might be caused by asthma, but it also can be caused by other conditions.
Wheezes are musical sounds, sustained notes, produced somewhere in your respiratory system. Sometimes they occur when you breathe in and sometimes when you breathe out. They signal an obstruction somewhere in your respiratory system. Wheezes often occur during an asthma attack, when the small breathing tubes in the lungs clamp down and fill with mucus.
Wheezing can occur also with allergies of the nose and sinuses, during bronchitis, with the chronic lung diseases called bronchiectasis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and when the heart is not beating efficiently and fluid backs up in the lungs (congestive heart failure).
As I understand it, your wheezing occurs only when you play tennis. Since exercise can trigger asthma attacks, that could indicate that you are developing asthma. On the other hand, if you have chronic nasal allergies, the heavier breathing during tennis might create wheezes caused by obstruction in your nose, chronic lung diseases, or even heart disease.
You should definitely have your doctor check you out for these conditions. They are easy to diagnose, and to treat.
– Anthony L. Komaroff, M.D.
Editor in Chief, Harvard Health Letter
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