DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I have never been diagnosed with asthma, but when I drink cold beverages or eat ice cream and when I work out in cold weather, I start wheezing and get extreme chest pain. Is this asthma? What can I do? – R.K.

ANSWER: You can’t give a better description of asthma.

Asthma is a relatively sudden constriction of the lungs’ bronchi, the airways. The constriction is reversible, but the amount of time it takes to reverse varies from person to person and from situation to situation. Airway narrowing makes it tough for air to get into and out of the lungs. In addition, during an attack the airways are inflamed and they secrete thick mucus. Both add to the difficulty for air to move through them.

Wheezing is a classic asthma sign. The wheezing noise indicates air is meeting with resistance in its passage through the breathing tubes. Coughing is another asthma sign, as is bringing up thick, sticky sputum. During an attack, asthmatics often have chest tightness and pain. A person need not have all these signs and symptoms to have asthma. Wheezing and chest pain are enough.

Exercising in cold, dry air is an asthma trigger for many. The loss of heat and moisture from the breathing tubes brings on an attack. I haven’t heard that drinking cold beverages or eating ice cream can precipitate an attack, but I can see how they might.

What can you do? Get to the family doctor. The doctor can confirm the asthma suspicion by testing your lungs’ function. Medicines can prevent attacks as well as put an end to them.

As for the cold drinks and ice cream, don’t you think it would be a good idea to avoid them?

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I am a dedicated weightlifter and have been one for a number of years.

About three years ago, I threw my back out while lifting weights. Ever since, I have worn a lifting belt, and my back has not bothered me. A person in the gym where I work out told me that the belt does no good and could hurt me. What’s your opinion? – B.R.

ANSWER: Readers, B.R. is talking about a very special kind of belt, one that is extremely wide and covers the lower back.

Danish investigators have recently written that such belts don’t prevent back pain. However, they do serve as a reminder to be careful in how you lift. Never bend at the waist to pick up weights.

Wearing them for prolonged periods, all day long, could interfere with the proper functioning of back muscles, but you don’t wear one all day.

If you have found a belt has protected your back while lifting weights, stick with it. Your experience deserves as much respect as does the experiences of others.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I am a high-school tennis coach, and I always supply my players with sports drinks, especially during long matches in hot weather. I was wondering what you think of these new sports drinks with fewer calories, such as Gatorade’s G2. It has half the calories as the regular drink.

I also play tennis, sometimes for hours, and have always drunk sports drinks to supply potassium and sodium. I love the fact that calories have been cut down, but I wonder whether my players and I are better off with low-calorie drinks. Shouldn’t we drink something that provides for the calories we’re burning? – V.A.

ANSWER: Regular Gatorade has about 50 calories. That’s not a huge number of calories. Taking away 25 calories isn’t going to affect your players’ or your game.

Gatorade and Gatorade G2 do replenish minerals. I don’t believe they were ever intended to make up for the calorie cost of exercise. You can get calories in other ways before you play.

Dr. Donohue regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but he will incorporate them in his column whenever possible. Readers may write him or request an order form of available health newsletters at P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Readers may also order health newsletters from

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