Everyone needs exercise, even people with asthma. It’s a critical part of maintaining a healthy lifestyle. However, sometimes exercise can trigger an asthma episode, making it difficult to get through a workout without experiencing the telltale coughing and shortness of breath. That's why it's important to learn how to identify and manage the symptoms of exercise-induced asthma before starting your workout.
What is exercise-induced asthma?
As the name suggests, exercise-induced asthma takes effect during physical exercise. More recently known as exercise-induced bronchoconstriction (EIB), exercise-induced asthma occurs when the airways narrow during exercise. According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (ACAAI), EIB is caused by the loss of heat, water or both from the airways when someone quickly breathes in air that is drier than the air that is already in their body.
Contrary to the previous belief that breathing cold air made EIB worse, recent studies have shown that EIB can be triggered by the dryness of air, not the temperature. According to the ACAAI, cold air generally has less moisture than warm air, which makes it especially important to manage your asthma in winter. Quickly breathing dry air dehydrates the bronchial tubes in the lungs, causing them to narrow and restrict airflow.
Common exercise-induced asthma symptoms.
The symptoms of exercise-induced asthma are identical to the symptoms of allergic asthma, but they occur specifically during physical activity. Common exercise-induced asthma symptoms can range from mild to severe and include:
- Shortness of breath
- Tightening of the chest
Other symptoms to look for include decreased endurance, sore throat and upset stomach.
Symptoms typically occur within a few minutes of exercising and can continue for up to 15 minutes after the workout has ended. However, some people may experience "late-phase" exercise-induced asthma, in which symptoms occur four to 12 hours after they stop exercising, according to the Allergy and Asthma Foundation of America (AAFA).
Common triggers of exercise-induced asthma.
Exercise-induced asthma triggers include airborne irritants, weather and air pollution. The ACAAI says EIB can be triggered by:
- Chlorine in a pool
- Dry air environments associated with hockey, ice skating and hot yoga
- Substances such as paint, perfume and various household cleaners
How to manage exercise-induced asthma.
There are many steps you can take to manage exercise-induced asthma. Be sure to consult your doctor and discuss treatment options before you make any adjustments to your exercise regimen. According to the AAFA, one way to manage exercise-induced asthma is to do a proper warmup for six to 10 minutes before engaging in exercise or physical activity that will require considerable exertion. You should also do a cooldown after your exercise to help your lungs get acclimated to the air.
Another way to manage exercise-induced asthma is to avoid working out in cold weather. If you are unable to avoid working out in cold weather, you can cover your nose and mouth with a mask or scarf to avoid breathing in cold air. During exercise, try to breathe through your nose, as this will help warm the air that goes into your lungs. If you have asthma and use an inhaler or medication to manage it, be sure to use that before you work out.
Although people with asthma often avoid exercise because it can trigger EIB, research from the American Lung Association has shown that exercise can actually improve lung function and reduce asthma symptoms over time. This is because exercise increases blood flow to the lungs and promotes blood flow to the heart, which then pumps oxygen throughout the body, decreasing the likelihood of an asthma incident.
Remember, you can continue to work out and stay active even if you experience exercise-induced asthma. If you have any questions about how to manage your symptoms, be sure to talk to your doctor.
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