Asthma And Fatigue. What Is The Connection?

Asthma is well known to cause wheezing, difficulty breathing, and chest tightness. But there are many other symptoms associated with this condition. Beyond just feeling tired, people with asthma often experience chronic, persistent fatigue. Fatigue also makes asthma worse, creating a vicious cycle. What is the connection between asthma and fatigue? Let’s review this connection, and also tips to cope with fatigue in this article. 

Why Does Asthma Cause Fatigue? 

There are a few reasons why fatigue is associated with asthma. 

  • Firstly, asthma is an inflammatory condition affecting the airways. Inflammation in the body  is associated with both fatigue and depression
  • Asthma also causes sleeping problems, even more in those with so-called nocturnal asthma. Nocturnal asthma aggravates at night, the symptoms become more severe, as the airways are more obstructed . Lack of sleep during night translates into waking up tired, and feeling fatigued throughout the day. If a person has asthma and also acid reflux or  excess weight (obesity) is more likely to also have symptom aggravation at night. 
  • Signs and symptoms of asthma make you tired. Chronic coughing involves additional effort as it causes muscle strain. Asthma causes breathing difficulties and reduced oxygen levels in the blood, which explain the feeling of weakness and tiredness. Severe symptoms and acute attacks of asthma cause significant inflammation of the airways and tightening of the muscles around the airways. This translates in increased breathing problems and also anxiety, both being exhausting. 
  • Medication. Some drugs like corticosteroid inhalers, and antihistamines can cause fatigue, unusual weakness and dizziness among other side effects. 
  • Lack of regular exercise. Exercise can trigger asthma symptoms, and therefore many people may avoid it. Paradoxically, exercise can also improve the symptoms of asthma, the main idea is to choose the right exercises and workout safely. 

Symptoms Associated With Fatigue And Asthma

Fatigue is defined as an overwhelming, sustained feeling of tiredness that makes it harder to function and carry out normal day-to-day activities. Fatigue affects both the body and the mind, being experienced as a lack of energy, focus, and motivation. Irritability, brain fog, daytime sleepiness, and weakness are all symptoms related to fatigue. Some people experience significant muscle weakness and feeling tired physically, while others experience more mental fatigue, feeling unmotivated and unfocused. 

Fatigue seems to be felt differently by men and women. Scientists found that men tend to complain more about feeling tired, while women are more likely to describe fatigue as feeling stressed, anxious or depressed

Everyone can experience fatigue after working long hours, not sleeping enough, or during stressful times. However, in this case, fatigue resolves after getting rest and reduced activities.  In case of asthma or other chronic, or inflammatory conditions, fatigue becomes persistent and affects the quality of life. 

A research study published in 2021 evaluated how often fatigue is associated with asthma, and also any other symptoms that may be associated with fatigue. They found that over 60% of people with asthma experienced fatigue. Furthermore, fatigue correlates with reduced quality of life, shortness of breath, depression, and anxiety, and less likely to have the asthma symptoms under control. According to this study, fatigue did not correlate with more severe symptoms or the degree of lung function impairments. 

 

Tips To Manage Fatigue

It is important to acknowledge this problem. Fatigue usually has a gradual onset and can get worse over time if left untreated. Some people try to ignore it, thinking it may be part of the normal aging process. Ask a doctor for an evaluation, to rule out common causes of fatigue such as anemia, infractions, thyroid, heart, or liver diseases. Fatigue should be treated, and lifestyle changes are the first to consider. 

  • Improving sleep hygiene. The main recommendations for a better night sleep include the following: going to bed and waking up at the same time, even during the weekend; increase activity in the afternoon and exercise during the day, not in the evening or before bedtime; exposure to bright light first thing in the morning and throughout the day; avoiding caffeine, nicotine, alcohol in the evening; having a light dinner 3-4 hours before bedtime, and no snacks afterwards. Taking a hot bath within a few hours before bedtime can also help. The bedrooms should be for sleep and sex only, and it should be completly dark without any electronics during the night. Many people report better sleep when disconnecting the wifi at night. An occasional nap during the day is fine, as long as it is taken early afternoon and is shorter than an hour. 
  • Exercise. The American Council of Exercise has the recipe to increase energy levels and cure fatigue: use exercise. Exercise increases the blood flow that carries oxygen and nutrients to the muscles, helping produce more energy, which benefits the entire body. As little as 20 minutes of exercise 3 times weekly can make a significant impact on energy levels. Get medical advice before starting a workout routine, as some exercise is beneficial for asthma, while some workouts can trigger symptoms . More details in this article.
  • Cognitive behavior therapy. According to the American Family Physician, the best therapies for fatigue (“A” evidence level) are exercise and cognitive behavior therapy (CBT). Both are highly effective to manage fatigue from various causes. 

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