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Get in the Game!

Get Control of Exercise-Induced Asthma

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Everyone needs to exercise, even people with asthma. A strong healthy body is one of your best defenses against disease. But some people with asthma have exercise- induced asthma. However, with proper medical prevention and management you should be able to walk, climb stairs, run, and participate in activities, sports, and exercise without experiencing symptoms. You don’t have to let exercise-induced asthma keep you from leading an active life or from achieving your athletic dreams.

What is exercise-induced asthma?
Exercise is a common cause of asthma symptoms. This is usually called exercise-induced asthma (EIA) or exercise-induced bronchospasm (EIB). It is estimated that 80 to 90 percent of all individuals who have allergic asthma will experience symptoms of EIA with vigorous exercise or activity. For teenagers and young adults, this is often the most common cause of asthma symptoms. Fortunately, with better medications, monitoring, and management, you can participate in physical activity and sports and achieve your highest performance level.

What are the symptoms of EIA?
Symptoms of exercised-induced asthma include coughing, wheezing, chest tightness, and shortness of breath. Coughing is the most common symptom of EIA and may be the only symptom you have. The symptoms of EIA may begin during exercise and will usually be worse five to ten minutes after stopping exercise. Symptoms most often resolve in another 20 to 30 minutes and can range from mild to severe. Occasionally, some individuals will experience “late-phase” symptoms four to twelve hours after stopping exercise. Late-phase symptoms are frequently less severe and can take up to 24 hours to go away.

Proper warm-up for six to ten minutes before periods of
exercise or vigorous activity will usually help.

What causes EIA?
When you exercise, you breathe faster due to the increased oxygen demands of your body. Usually during exercise, you inhale through your mouth, causing the air to be dryer and cooler than when you breathe through your nasal passages. This decrease in warmth and humidity are both causes of bronchospasm. Exercise that exposes you to cold air, such as skiing or ice hockey, is therefore more likely to cause symptoms than exercise involving warm and humid air, such as swimming. Pollution levels, high pollen counts, and exposure to other irritants, such as smoke and strong fumes, can also make EIA symptoms worse. A recent cold or asthma episode also can cause you to have more difficulty exercising.

How is EIA diagnosed?
It is important to know the difference between being out of condition and having exercise-induced asthma. A well-conditioned person will usually only experience the symptoms of EIA with vigorous activity or exercise. To make a diagnosis, your doctor will take a thorough history and may perform a series of tests. During these tests, which may include running or a treadmill test, your doctor will measure your lung functions using a spirometer before, during, and after exercise. Monitoring your peak flows before, during, and after exercise can also help you and your doctor detect narrowing of your airways. Then, using guidelines established by your doctor, you can help prevent asthma symptoms and participate in and enjoy physical activity. Your doctor will also tell you what to do should a fullblown episode occur.

How is EIA treated and managed?
With proper treatment and management of EIA, people with EIA can participate in activities safely and achieve their full potential. Proper management requires that you take steps to prevent symptoms and carefully monitor your respiratory status before, during, and after exercise. Taking medication prior to exercising is important in preventing EIA. Proper warm-up for six to ten minutes before periods of exercise or vigorous activity will usually help. Individuals who can tolerate continuous exercise with minimal symptoms may find that proper warm-up may prevent the need for repeated medications.

What types of sports are best for people with EIA?
Activities that involve only short bursts of exercise or intermittent periods of activity are usually better tolerated. Such sports include walking, volleyball, gymnastics, and baseball. Swimming that involves breathing warm and moist air is often well tolerated. Aerobic sports, such as distance running, soccer, or basketball, are more likely to cause symptoms. In addition, cold air sports, such as ice hockey or ice-skating, may not be tolerated as well.

It is important to consult with your healthcare provider prior to beginning any exercise program and to pace yourself. With effective management, people with EIA can perform and excel in a variety of sports. Many athletes with exercise-induced asthma have excelled in their sports, even winning Olympic gold medals.

Remember, with proper medical management, you should be able to walk, climb stairs, run, and participate in activities, sports, and exercise without experiencing symptoms. Do not let EIA keep you from leading an active life or from achieving your athletic dreams.

 

Source: Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, www.aafa.org

This article was originally published in Coping® with Allergies & Asthma magazine, May/June 2009.