Real story: keeping pace with asthma

Donna Stoll standing with her bike and helmet.

Donna Stoll’s fitness journey started in her 30s with walking. When the weather was nice, it was the perfect activity for her since she loves to be outdoors.

She’d experience a dry cough from time to time when walking, which also occurred when she added running to her fitness plan. But it didn’t impact her routine or daily activities.

“I thought maybe I had an allergy to something outdoors,” Donna, a coding auditor for BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee says. “That’s common around here.”

As she increased the length of her runs, she’d sometimes feel out of breath by the end of them. “I chalked it up to being out of shape for the distances I was running,” she said. Later she took her fitness routine up a notch with trail running. But the symptom she experienced stopped her in her tracks.

“I started wheezing,” Donna said. “I knew that wasn’t right.”

Getting her care on track

The wheezing sent Donna to see an allergist. Testing showed allergies to grasses and mold. She was prescribed a rescue inhaler to help her breathe better during exercise, and soon began longer distance runs and races.

But when her symptoms worsened, Donna called a friend who’d mentioned having similar symptoms. That was the push Donna needed to go back to the doctor. Additional testing resulted in more allergies being diagnosed. This also confirmed a diagnosis of asthma.

“I started immunotherapy shots to help me manage my allergies,” Donna said. “I also take a prescribed asthma medication, and I use a rescue inhaler 30 minutes before vigorous activity.”

Seeking greater fitness challenges

Donna has participated in running competitions, including a marathon. She added cycling to her fitness routine a few years ago. She’s diligent in sticking to the medication and inhaler schedule prescribed by her doctor because she knows it keeps her doing what she loves.

“I have to be outside,” Donna said. “I get benefits both physically and mentally from being outdoors.”

What you need to know about asthma

According to Dr. Ian Bushell, a medical director for BlueCross, asthma and allergies can occur together or separately. And asthma doesn’t affect everyone the same way. Asthma can be a recurring cough at night, when exercising or when exposed to cold air, or it can be more severe. If it’s uncontrolled, it can limit quality of life, he says.

“On a milder level, it will interfere with your physical activities and sleep,” Dr. Bushell explains. “On a more severe level, it is very scary to not be able to breathe. It can cause ER visits and hospitalizations, and for a few it can even be fatal.”

Dr. Bushell suggests being screened for asthma if you’re experiencing any of these indicators:

  • Feeling short of breath or can’t catch your breath
  • A persistent cough
  • Wheezing when breathing

“Having regular visits with a physician is critical to managing asthma,” Dr. Bushell explains. “You also need to take medicines as prescribed and follow your personal ‘asthma action plan’ which tells you what to do when your symptoms change, and they likely will.”

More about asthma from WellTuned


Marie Mosley

Marie joined the BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee corporate communications team in 2012. A Florida native, she has 25 years of experience in public relations, community relations, speech writing and special event planning.

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