It starts with a tight feeling in your chest. Your
breaths become shallow and high, like your
lungs are sitting at the back of your throat.
Then, panic sets in. You’re gasping for air, and
the anxiety is only making it worse.
I was diagnosed with asthma in my early
teens, and it would act up whenever I was
rehearsing something extra-strenuous. While
it rarely put me in immediate medical danger,
it certainly changed the way I danced. I approached dif;cult phrases with less con;dence,
and tried to save so much energy in the early
minutes of pieces that I moved too cautiously.
Dancing, and other physical activity, can
trigger an asthma attack. But that doesn’t
mean you have to let it impact your work.
Instead, you can learn how to prevent and
control your breathing problems. It will help
you feel more secure onstage, give more power
to your dancing and, most importantly, keep
you out of a dangerous medical situation.
WHY IT HAPPENS
When you have an asthma attack, it’s be-
WHAT TO DO
cause your airway has narrowed and become
in;amed, limiting the air that can get to your
lungs. Asthma, which usually develops by
age 30, can have many different triggers, says
Atlanta Ballet primary care physician Kara
Pepper. It could be environmental, like cold
air or dust; allergy-related, like pollen or pet
dander; or because of exercise itself.
If you’re having trouble breathing, see your
primary care doctor, who may refer you to a
lung doctor or allergist, depending on your
symptoms. You’ll probably be given a physical exam, as well as a series of breathing tests
that measure the power and capacity of your
lungs. Most people diagnosed with asthma are
prescribed a rescue inhaler. These are used to
help open up airways in the lungs, but only
relieve symptoms temporarily. If you are
experiencing symptoms weekly, you would be
given a daily prescription to lessen the need
for a rescue inhaler, says Pepper.
Keeping your asthma under control means
always having your inhaler within reach,
whether that’s in your dance bag or safely
hidden in the wings during a performance.
If you know you’ll be dancing something
extra-aerobic, take a puff from the inhaler 30
minutes prior. Many rescue inhalers contain
a short-acting medication, which can make
some people feel shaky and have a racing
heartbeat, but it usually isn’t enough to throw
off your performance.
Learn what triggers your breathing problem. For instance, you could avoid allergens
by using your air conditioner during high pollen seasons. Clean your living space regularly,
since dust—even if you’re not allergic—can
be a key player. And invest in a dehumidi-;er if you live in a particularly damp climate.
Pepper’s biggest advice is to ;nd a lung doctor
to monitor the severity of your symptoms.
Lastly, get a ;u shot every year and a pneumonia shot sometime after you turn 18, as
both illnesses greatly impact lung capacity.
Asthma is a manageable problem, and very
rarely will it impact your health so much that
a doctor would suggest abandoning dance
altogether. You just have to take command of
your health, like you would with any tricky
piece of choreography that comes your way. ■
Feeling short of breath can
make strenuous dancing
next to impossible.
BY KRISTIN SCHWAB
Eating for Better Breathing
According to the Mayo Clinic, people with
asthma may have low levels of vitamin D—
something many dancers often lack because
they spend so much time indoors. Get your fix
through salmon, milk, eggs and some sun. Fruits,
vegetables and other antioxidant-packed foods
have been found to decrease lung inflammation.
And, of course, avoid any foods that may trigger
an allergic reaction.