For someone who has never been diagnosed with asthma, difficulty breathing during physical activity is especially frightening. Most people think of asthma as something that affects a person day in and day out, which is not the case for those with exercise-induced asthma. This article outlines some of the basics of this common condition, which affects million of men, women and children in the United States. The joys of exercise and sports nurture the body and the mind, making it more important than ever to look for ways to prevent and manage the symptoms of exercise-induced asthma. Read on and then get moving!
To properly diagnose and treat exercise-induced asthma, your doctor will assess your symptoms. Exercise-induced asthma is often triggered by the effects of mouth-breathing during physical activity, compounded with a heightened sensitivity of the muscles of the airways. The airways contract in response to changes in the temperature and humidity of the air caused by breathing through the mouth, causing the exerciser to experience wheezing, shortness of breath, a tightening sensation in the chest and unusually severe feelings of fatigue.
Your doctor will also ask questions about the frequency and duration of your symptoms. In exercise-induced asthma, symptoms typically occur between five to 20 minutes of engaging in physical activity. In others, the symptoms begin approximately five to 10 minutes after stopping the activity. A physician might also order a physical examination or breathing tests to measure your lung capacity.
If you struggle with exercise-induced asthma, you have a number of viable options to prevent or manage your symptoms. For example, many people find that warm-ups and cool-downs before and after physical activity can help acclimate the body to exercise and reduce or avoid problematic symptoms. Others find that avoiding exercise during peak pollen and air pollution days is helpful. It is also helpful to avoid strenuous physical activity during or immediately after an illness.
When behavioral changes are not sufficient, your doctor may recommend prescription medication or breathing treatments. Asthma inhalers may be used immediately before or after physical activity; the most commonly prescribed inhalers contain albuterol, a beta-2 agonist. Daily 'maintenance' medications might also be prescribed for those who are highly susceptible to asthma symptoms. Another option for exercise-induced asthma sufferers is a breathing treatment containing cromolyn sodium (Intal or Tilade). These treatments are administered by inhalation and are most effective when taken about 15 or 20 minutes prior to physical activity.
In most cases, managing your condition is sufficient to enable you to participate in nearly any sport or activity. For those with more severe symptoms, it may be necessary to avoid activities performed in cooler temperatures, such as ice skating, ice hockey or skiing. It is also advisable to avoid sports that require prolonged periods of exertion, including soccer, basketball and distance running.