Do you suspect your hormones have an effect on your asthma? If you’ve noticed that your symptoms flare up at certain times of your cycle, or your life, then you’re not alone. We took a look at the connection between asthma and hormones, and what it means for women at various life stages.
Have you found that your asthma symptoms seem to worsen before your period? Or have you noticed that your breathing got more challenging as you approached menopause? Neither of these would be unusual. In fact, studies show that women are likely to notice worsening asthma symptoms around times of hormonal change, like during puberty, periods and pregnancy.
Paula Kauppi, Chief Specialist of the Allergy Unit of the Helsinki University Hospital, explains that hormonal fluctuations and their impact on asthma are a reality for many women.
“It’s been known for decades that asthma is more common in women. Plus, it’s clear that it peaks in specific age groups – both in terms of when it manifests and when it’s problematic,” says Kauppi.
For example, the risk of getting asthma around puberty doubles for girls who start their periods early.
Interestingly, women also have different experiences to men when it comes to asthma symptoms. They are more likely to suffer from wheezing and coughing, particularly when they’re younger. Also, while men widely report that their symptoms get substantially milder as they get older, women don’t experience that phenomenon quite as strongly.
Why do hormones affect women like that?
When oestrogen and progesterone levels peak, your airways are more likely to be hyper-sensitive, Kauppi says – so you’re not imagining things if you find that at certain times you’re more affected by the things that usually set your asthma off such as exercise, airborne pollution or other asthma triggers.
Hormones are also an asthma trigger in themselves and can make women more sensitive to other irritants, such as hay fever.
Also, it’s much more likely for women to develop severe asthma at around 40-50 years of age. However, the good news is that the majority of women find that later in life their symptoms seem to generally ease off.
“Generally, premenstruation and perimenopause (the time leading up to menopause and the time shortly after) tend to be the most problematic phases,” says Kauppi, although she points out that not all women find that their asthma develops or flares up at these times.
Pregnancy is also a time when women should pay special attention to lung health, says Kauppi. However, women won’t necessarily find that they’re more troubled by inflamed airways when they’re pregnant. In fact, a third of women say their asthma symptoms stay about the same and another third report that they actually breathe easier when they have a baby on board.
Most asthma medications, especially inhaled ones, are well tolerated in pregnancy, but it’s always good to have a talk with a doctor about your personal situation, especially if asthma symptoms are getting worse.
Self-care is important for all women with asthma, especially at times of hormonal change.
”Hormones and asthma both have the power to impact on your physical and mental wellbeing, and vice versa,” reminds Kauppi.
Above all, it’s important to remember that it is possible to stay on top of your symptoms at any stage of your life or your cycle. The options for controlling your asthma are as individual and adaptable as your own body.
By Sarah Hudson
Photo by iStock
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