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I’ve always thought that the term exercise-induced asthma was a little strange – after all, most people with chronic asthma will become symptomatic during strenuous or prolonged exercise. But there are many people without chronic asthma who develop symptoms only during exercise – and this is what is typically referred to as exercised-induced asthma.
Exercised-induced asthma (or bronchoconstriction) is a narrowing of the airways in the lungs that is triggered by vigorous exercise. This narrowing can cause wheezing, coughing, tightening of the chest, shortness of breath, fatigue during exercise, and poorer than expected athletic performance. These symptoms generally begin a few minutes into the workout or might not appear until after the exercise has ended.
Does any of this sound familiar? If so, now what? Does having asthma mean that you can’t exercise?
In a word, no.
But people with asthma do have to take some extra precautions to prevent and control their symptoms.The first step is to see your healthcare professional right away for a thorough and accurate diagnosis. Avoid the temptation to self-diagnose – the symptoms of exercised-induced asthma may signal a number of conditions. And if you are diagnosed with asthma, your doctor may be able to prescribe medication that will significantly reduce your discomfort during exercise.
In addition to taking the proper medication, here are some other things you can do to help manage your symptoms.
5 Tips for Managing Your Exercise-Induced Asthma:
1. Warm up. Try a light jog or some other gentle activity about 105-15 minutes prior to your more intense workout.
2. Take precautions when it’s cold outside. People with exercise-induced asthma may be extra sensitive to cold weather and changes in temperature. Keep your nose and mouth covered during exercise – this will help warm the air before you breathe it. Or consider moving your workouts indoors during extreme temperatures.
3. Breathe through your nose. We tend to breathe through our mouths during exercise, and this air is colder and drier than the air in your lungs. The contrast between the warm, moist air in your lungs and the cold, dry inhaled air can trigger an asthma attack. Breathing through your nose will help warm and humidify the air before it hits your lungs.
4. Don’t exercise when you’re sick. When you have asthma, any upper respiratory infection (like a cold or the flu) can cause inflammation and airway narrowing in your lungs. This leaves you more susceptible to an asthma attack, even if your symptoms are typically only triggered by asthma. Don’t risk it – take a rest day.
5. Choose your exercise carefully. You’re going to participate in the sports that you love – believe me, I understand. But do be aware that for people with exercise-induced asthma, some activities are better than others. Activities that involve short, intermittent periods of exertion (e.g., volleyball, gymnastics, baseball, and walking) are generally well-tolerated by people with exercise-induced asthma. Activities that involve long periods of exertion (e.g., long distance running, basketball, and soccer) and cold weather sports (i.e., ice hockey, cross-country skiing, and ice skating) may be less well tolerated. And good news for you triathletes out there: swimming is generally better tolerated by those with asthma because it is usually performed in a warm, moist air environment.
The good news is that with proper diagnosis and an appropriate asthma action plan, your exercise-induced asthma should not prevent you from leading an active lifestyle and participating in your favorite activities! But having an asthma action plan is key. Become familiar with your triggers and learn what works – and what doesn’t – for you.
Want to learn more about my journey as a marathon runner with asthma? Click HERE.