Asthma is a common health concern caused due to intermittent narrowing of the airways in the lungs and decreased measure of airflow. This leads to severe symptoms, such as wheezing, coughing, dyspnea, shortness of breath, chest tightness, etc., which begin around 5-20 minutes after starting exercise, and in some cases, immediately after stopping physical activity.
Also called exercise-induced bronchoconstriction (EIB) or exercise-induced asthma, it is triggered by a physical workout. Even athletes who do not have asthma can suffer from EIB due to frequent and intense exercise. Its signs and symptoms are:
- Nonasthmatic inspiratory wheeze
- Vocal cord dysfunction and
- Cardiac arrhythmias,
- Coughing & Wheezing
- Shortness of breath
- Fatigue during exercise
- Poorer than expected athletic performance
- Avoidance of activity (a sign primarily among young children)
Understandably, athletes with asthma get hesitant to run and restrict themselves from regular physical activities. If you are facing the same challenges, then don’t let them hold you back. Exercise-induced asthma may not have any specific cure but its symptoms are manageable.
Ways Athletes Can Manage Asthma Symptoms
Take Preventive Measures
Before you start a workout, create an action plan with the help of your doctor. This will ensure that you take all preventive measures to control common triggers of asthma without hampering your exercise routine. Use an inhaler for long-term management to soothe airway inflammation. This will mitigate the risks of flare-ups. Also, you can use a rescue inhaler that contains medicines to open the airways. Don’t forget to ask your doctor about emergency actions in case you forget to take an inhaler and get an asthma attack.
Use Proper Asthma Medications
Visit your doctor to get a prescription and take timely medications. Usually, athletes use a short-acting beta-2 agonist, such as albuterol, with two inhalations at least 15 to 20 minutes before starting their workout. This prevents airway spasms for several hours and ensures proper exercise without any hurdles. A long-acting bronchodilator is effective for 12 hours but is not recommended as a monotherapy. Doctors also suggest long-term inhaled anti-inflammatory medications to “quiet” the airways.
Always Carry an Inhaler
To manage asthma and its symptoms, use an asthma inhaler with a beta-agonist bronchodilator (salbutamol or terbutaline). If you experience any symptoms while running, take a rescue inhaler without delay to prevent the attack. This has been an effective measure in about 80% of EIB patients. Working as a preventive therapy, an inhaler should be taken 15 minutes before exercise, and it works for 4-6 hours. Make sure to add a reminder so that you never forget to carry your inhaler.
Your overall health is crucial to overcoming exercise-induced asthma as it directly correlates with obesity. So, the more your work out, the better shape you are in, and the fewer asthma symptoms you experience. A regular exercise regime improves the emotional and physical well-being of people, including EIB patients. So, participate in sports activities and sweat it out more but keep your inhaler with you always.
Don’t Skip Warm-ups and Cool-downs
A 10-minute warm-up and cool-down exercise is not only a good habit but an essential step to adjust airways. This becomes even more important if you are leaving/entering a heated or air-conditioned room because any drastic change in body temperature can lead to signs and symptoms of exercise-induced bronchoconstriction.
As swimming is done in a warm and humid environment, it doesn’t allow airways to dry. Hence, making it a good option for exercise-induced asthma patients. However, indoor pools have irritants in the air that can aggravate symptoms so be careful. Moreover, you can try other sports, such as gymnastics, golf, volleyball, and baseball that require short bursts of activity and are less likely to trigger symptoms.
When to See a Doctor
Despite asthma, you can run safely. However, in case of severe symptoms of exercise-induced bronchoconstriction, visit your doctor immediately for a prompt and accurate diagnosis. Get instant medical treatment if you experience:
- The rapid increase in wheezing or shortness of breath.
- No improvement in asthma symptoms after using an inhaler.
Krishma Patel is the Co-founder and the Superintendent Pharmacist at MedsNow, an online pharmacy in the UK that provides health and wellness products and treatments along with free online consultations. She is passionate about showcasing the integral function community pharmacies can play in supporting the healthcare system and the NHS by providing patients with high quality, safe and discreet access to healthcare at their convenience. Along with being the co-founder of MedsNow, Krishma is also the Director and the Superintendent Pharmacist of Enimed Ltd., an independent pharmacy group comprising 32 branches.