Asthma and diabetes. Is there a link?

Young girl using her inhaler outside.

It is believed that more than 300 million people worldwide have asthma.1 And close to 415 million people are living with diabetes.2 But before we talk about a link between these 2 conditions, it will help to discuss what each condition is.

What is asthma?

Asthma is a lung disease that causes a person's airways to narrow. Airways are how air gets into and out of your lungs. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute,3 an asthma attack can make it hard for a person to breathe and cause coughing, wheezing and chest tightening. If not treated, it can be very dangerous.

There are many ways to treat and control asthma. But there is no cure. Even if a person with asthma feels fine, the disease can pop up again at any time.

What is diabetes?

According to the American Diabetes Association® (ADA), diabetes "is a group of diseases characterized by high blood glucose levels that result from defects in the body's ability to produce and/or use insulin.”4

What does that mean? Basically, it means that a person with diabetes can't create or properly use insulin, which helps control blood sugar levels. Uncontrolled blood sugar levels can cause a variety of symptoms.

There are 2 main types of diabetes: type 1 and type 2. The ADA offers this list of common symptoms for each type:

Type 1 diabetes5

  • Frequent urination
  • Unusual thirst
  • Extreme hunger
  • Unusual weight loss
  • Extreme tiredness

Type 2 diabetes6 (often people with type 2 diabetes have no symptoms)

  • Any of the type 1 symptoms
  • Frequent infections
  • Blurry vision
  • Cuts/bruises that are slow to heal
  • Tingling/numbness in the hands/feet
  • Skin, gum or bladder infections

Both types need to be taken seriously and treated by a doctor. The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases says that without the right treatment, diabetes can lead to other conditions. These include heart attack and stroke, eye problems that can lead to trouble seeing or blindness, nerve damage and kidney issues.7

Are asthma and diabetes connected?

The links between obesity and asthma have not yet been proven but likely feature many factors such as a person’s genetic predisposition, dietary changes, pro-inflammatory state and more.8

What does all this mean to you?

If you or someone you care about has asthma, you should work with a doctor to be tested often for diabetes and other conditions. There is no guarantee that an asthma sufferer will develop diabetes.

Building a long-term relationship with a doctor can have a positive impact on your overall health, especially if you already have asthma or another condition.

Controlling the conditions

If you have asthma or diabetes—or both—learning how to control your condition can help you lead a better life. The most important thing for either condition is to work closely with a doctor to create a medical treatment plan. But the following tips can help you deal with asthma or diabetes on a daily basis.

Asthma control tips

Asthma.org.uk says one of the best ways to control asthma is to know your triggers. Triggers are things like pets, allergies and even the foods you eat that can cause an asthma attack.9 After working with your doctor to create a treatment plan, you should pay attention to what causes your asthma to get worse. And then you can work to stay away from those things in your life.

Asthma.com also has some great tips for helping you remember to take your asthma medicine.

  • If you have coffee every morning, keep your medicine next to your favorite coffee mug.
  • If you have a cellphone, set its alarm for twice a day—once in the morning and once in the evening—to remind you to take your medicine.
  • Work with a friend, who is also on medicine, to call each other daily.
  • If you use a computer every day, program a startup reminder or a daily email.
  • Each time you get a new supply of medication, make a note to refill it on your calendar 1 week before the medicine is due to run out.

1 more tip: eat right. Eating healthy foods is good for anyone. And it just might help those with asthma control their symptoms. Here are a few ways to improve your nutrition:

  • Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables.
  • Eat foods with omega-3 fatty acids like salmon, tuna and sardines.
  • Avoid trans fats found in certain foods.
  • Keep a healthy weight, as overweight people tend to have more trouble controlling asthma.

Diabetes control tips

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute suggests following a healthy meal plan.10 If you do not have one, ask your healthcare team to help you develop a meal plan. Good rules of thumb are to:

  • Eat healthy foods such as fruits and vegetables, fish, lean meats, chicken or turkey without the skin, dry peas or beans, whole grains and low-fat or skim milk and cheese.

     

  • Keep fish, lean meat and poultry portions to about 3 ounces. Bake, broil or grill it.
  • Eat foods that have less fat and salt.
  • Eat foods with more fiber such as whole grain cereals, breads, crackers, rice or pasta.

The program also suggests other well-being tips such as:

  • Doing things, like brisk walking, which get you moving 30 to 60 minutes every day.
  • Staying at a healthy weight by using your meal plan and moving more.
  • Asking for help if you feel down. Talking to a friend or family member, even someone from your place of worship. You can also get professional help from a counselor.
  • Learning to cope with stress. Stress can raise your blood glucose. While it is hard to remove stress from your life, you can learn to handle it.
  • Stopping smoking. Ask for help to quit.
  • Taking your prescribed medicines even when you feel good.
  • Checking your feet every day for cuts, blisters, red spots and swelling.
  • Brushing your teeth and flossing every day to avoid problems with your mouth, teeth or gums.
  • Testing your blood glucose 1 or more times a day. Keep your doctor in the loop.
  • Checking your blood pressure if your doctor thinks you should.
  • Reporting any changes in your eyesight to your healthcare team.

Sources:

  1. Sidney S. Braman, “The Global Burden of Asthma,” Chest 130 (1 Suppl) (July 2006): 4S–12S, accessed January 9, 2020, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16840363, opens new window.
  2. “Diabetes Prevalance,” Diabetes.co.uk, last accessed January 9, 2020, http://www.diabetes.co.uk/diabetes-prevalence.html, opens new window.
  3. “Asthma,” National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, last accessed January 9, 2020, https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/asthma, opens new window.
  4. “Diabetes Overview: Symptoms, Causes, Treatment,” American Diabetes Association®, last accessed January 9, 2020, https://www.diabetes.org/diabetes, opens new window.
  5. “Diabetes Overview.”
  6. “Diabetes Overview.”
  7. “Diabetes, Heart Disease, and Stroke,” National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, last accessed January 9, 2020, https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/diabetes/overview/preventing-problems/heart-disease-stroke, opens new window.
  8. Erick Forno, “Asthma in Adults with Diabetes: Treat Their Diabetes with Metformin, Improve Their Asthma?,” Respirology 21, No. 7 (October 2016): 1144–1145, accessed February 11, 2020, doi:10.1111/resp.12869.
  9. “Live Well with Asthma,” Asthma.org.uk, last accessed January 9, 2020, https://www.asthma.org.uk/197182a8/globalassets/health-advice/resources/adults/live-well-with-asthma-booklet.pdf, PDF opens new window.
  10. “Heart-Healthy Lifestyle Changes,” National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, last accessed January 9, 2020, https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/heart-healthy-lifestyle-changes, opens new window.