Asthma and Exercise
By Robert Sedlacek, MD
Some people with Asthma avoid activity for one reason or another while athletes with Asthma compete at the highest level of many sports.
Asthma is an inflammation of the airways of the lungs because of abnormally high sensitivity to triggers such as cold air, dust mites, tobacco smoke, pollen, animal dander or other irritants in the environment, these airways start to contract, causing coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath and tightness in the chest.
For about 80 to 90 percent of people with chronic asthma, exercise is one of the factors that can precipitate an attack. In addition, many individuals who never have asthma any other time get symptoms when they exercise.
Symptoms such as shortness of breath, cramps, stomach pain or headaches may come on 10 to 20 minutes after the start of exercise or 5 to 10 minutes after it’s over. Those who don’t have chronic asthma may attribute these symptoms to ‘being out of shape.
If you’re bothered by exercise-induced symptoms–and even top-level athletes frequently are–it’s important to see a healthcare provider who can confirm a diagnosis and offer comprehensive treatment and an action plan for managing problems during exercise.
Whatever activity you choose, here are some strategies for managing your asthma:
•Devote at least 10 minutes for warming up and 10 minutes for cooling down. This allows the airways to adjust.
•Drink plenty of fluids.
•If you experience breathing or other problems while exercising, don’t try to work through them.
•Following your doctor’s advice, make preventive use of long-acting and/or short-term inhalers or other medications.
•Avoid exercising in cold, dry air or in smoggy conditions. Air pollution and a high pollen count also increase the risk of exercise-induced asthma.
When you have asthma, getting fit can be a slow, gradual process, but the benefits are worth it. With increased fitness, it’s possible to do more physical activity before becoming breathless. Exercise also promotes weight loss, making exercise easier, reducing anxiety and raising confidence. Physical activity becomes easier and more rewarding. There’s also evidence that aerobic fitness reduces the overall severity of asthma symptoms.
Elite athletes who have succeeded despite their asthma have demonstrated that the disease need not be a limiting factor. Other asthma patients should get the message early: it’s possible to get fit and stay fit–with all the health benefits that follow–despite your asthma. Your primary care clinician can be a valuable resource to determine if you have asthma and help manage its symptoms.
Robert Sedlacek, MD, is a Family Medicine Specialist with Ascension Medical Group at Merrill. For more information or to schedule an appointment, please call 715.804.7500 or visit ascension.org/wisconsin