Exercise Induced Asthma: What You Should Know

You may have heard of the term “Exercise Induced Asthma” but what really is it? This article is meant to provide information about this form of asthma so you may know what to do for yourself or your kids – just in case you encounter it.

Exercise is important. However, when you have asthma, it can make it very difficult to do a normal routine. Having asthma episodes during exercise is not uncommon.

By utilizing proper management and prevention tools, you can learn to exercise without any symptoms. The problem is that exercise causes shortness of breath naturally. EIB, or exercise-induced bronchoconstriction, is an airflow obstruction that occurs when the bronchial tubes are put under distress. According to the American Council on Exercise (ACE), up to 90 percent of people suffering from asthma will have symptoms during a workout. As you can see, exercise induced asthma is very common.

What Are the Symptoms of Exercise Induced Asthma?

According to Everyday Health, the most common symptom of asthma from exercise is coughing. Though the symptoms don’t always occur immediately after the activity is started, they usually will progress within 5-10 minutes after stopping. The most common symptoms are:

  • Wheezing
    •Tightness In The Chest
  • Shortness of Breath
  • Coughing or Choking

Though symptoms can range from mild to severe, they often resolve themselves within 20 to 30 minutes after the activity has stopped. On some occasions, people will experience a second wave of symptoms. This can happen as much as four to twelve hours afterward. Often called late-phase symptoms, they can take up to 24 hours to resolve. There is a lot of factors that can increase the severity of the attack.

What Causes Asthma Due To Exercise?

When a person exercises, they breathe deeper and faster than normal. This causes your body to have an increased demand for oxygen. As you inhale through your mouth, the air is dryer and cooler than the air that comes from breathing through your nose. This cold and dry air triggers bronchoconstriction, which is known as asthma. Those that exercise in the winter months is more likely to have a major attack than those that exercise in the warm and humid temperatures of summer. According to the CDC, there are some other things that can also increase the likelihood of an attack, they are:

  • High Pollution Levels
  • Higher Than Average Pollen Counts
  • Air Irritants Like Smoke and Fumes
  • Having A Cold
  • Having A Recent Asthma Episode

There are other reasons to be short of breath while exercising too. Those who are overweight or are out of shape can experience the same type of symptoms for various reasons. For a person to be diagnosed with asthma, some lung function tests may have to be performed a doctor will need to do lung function tests or Pulmonary Function Tests (PFTs) – which may include spirometry and Peak Flow measurements. Peak Flow measurements are performed using a Peak Flow Meter and are intended to measure the amount of air someone can breathe in and out of your lungs, as well as how hard and fast they are able to breathe out. Spirometry tests are done mostly to measure how much air (volume of air) a patient can take in. Armed with information, a physician can help you to create a plan to control your asthma during exercise effectively. You also need to know what to do should a full-blown asthma episode occur during a workout.

Managing and Treating Exercise Induced Asthma

You can enjoy the exercise you love with the proper management of your asthma. Things you can do to help are:

  • Cover Your Mouth And Nose During Cold or Dry Weather
  • Take Medication Before Starting Any Exercise Session
  • Do 6 -10 Minutes of Warmup Before Any Vigorous Activity
  • Watch Your Respiratory Statues Before, During, and After Activity

If a child has asthma due to exercise, they should still be able to partake in activities. Any teachers or coaches that work with the child needs to know about their condition. They need to have medications on hand in case of an attack during any activity. For athletes, the medications must be disclosed to the team’s management. There are medications that are approved and some that are prohibited. It is important to know the proper medications to take that can control your symptoms and also follow the committee’s protocols.

What Activities Will Trigger Asthma?

You are probably wondering what activities are safe for you to do. First, anything that is done in the cold and dry weather is a major problem. These activities would include things like ice skating, skiing, and ice hockey. Another problem is activities that have constant action. Examples would be long distance running, soccer and basketball. The oxygen demands are more during these activities, which means that there is a high likelihood of an attack.

There are a few activities that are less likely to trigger an attack. This is because these activities have short bursts of exercise and plenty of time for the breathing system to recover. Activities like swimming, walking, biking, volleyball, gymnastics, and baseball, are all good choices.

Medications Treat or Prevent Exercise Induced Asthma

Treating asthma is easier than one might think. There are three major categories of medication that can control the symptoms. A physician can help decide the treatment plan that is best based on your history and activities. According to the Mayo Clinic, there are three types of medications that can help.

A bronchodilator or short-acting beta-agonist is a medication that can help prevent symptoms. It should be taken 10-15 minutes before any exercise. It will continue to work for up to four hours after the dose. Should symptoms of asthma from exercise occur, it can help to quickly treat and reverse these issues.

A long-acting bronchodilator should be taken about a half-hour before any type of physical activity. Though, these should only be used once in a 12-hour period of time. These medications can help to prevent symptoms for up to 12 hours. Though they will do nothing to help prevent any problems, they can act quickly if and when a problem occurs.

Mast cell stabilizers, like cromolyn sodium, must be taken up to 20 minutes before doing any type of physical activity. These medications work well to eliminate the late phase reactions that some people have when exercising. They are great at preventing symptoms, but they will not relieve the symptoms when they begin. This medication should be used in combination with a short-acting bronchodilator for increased coverage.

Management Is Key

Those who have frequent symptoms when they exercise need to talk to their doctor. They may need to increase or add another medication that can help. In many cases, long-term control medications, like inhaled steroids, have been very effective in managing severe cases of exercise induced asthma. Even with asthma, you should be able to play sports and take part in activities you love without issue. Never let asthma keep you from having an active life and getting the exercise your body needs.



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