Exercise induced asthma is a type of asthma where you only experience the symptoms when you exercise.
Some people who have asthma (diagnosed or undiagnosed) find that exercising can bring on the symptoms of the condition. Physical activity of any kind, whether mild or vigorous, can trigger symptoms or bring on an asthma attack.
Asthma symptoms are triggered when the airways in the lungs contract and narrow, leading to wheezing, shortness of breath, coughing, and tightness in the chest. When you exercise, you will usually start breathing faster through your mouth instead of through your nose. When you breathe in through your mouth, the colder and drier air can aggravate the sensitive airways and cause them to narrow, causing asthma symptoms.
If your asthma is not adequately controlled with the right medication, then exercise could worsen the symptoms. If you don’t already have a diagnosis of asthma, and notice that you get any of these symptoms when exercising, speak to your doctor.
If you are diagnosed with exercise induced asthma, there are treatments available to help. If your asthma is under control, then there is no reason why you can’t exercise safely and keep fit without worrying about triggering your asthma.
What are the symptoms?
The symptoms of exercise induced asthma are the same as asthma but are normally worse during or after exercise. The symptoms generally get better after you stop exercising and rest.
Exercise makes your body work harder, so it’s normal to breathe faster, feel your heartbeat increasing, and get hot, sweaty and red in the face. If you feel any of the following symptoms, it could be exercise induced asthma and you need to stop what you’re doing:
- you can’t get your breath/are short of breath
- tight feeling in the chest
The symptoms of exercise induced asthma usually start while you’re exercising and will continue or feel worse between five and ten minutes after stopping. If you have already been diagnosed with asthma, then your reliever inhaler should help to ease the symptoms. You should start feeling better after 20 to 30 minutes.
If the symptoms do not improve and any of the following occur, you could be having an asthma attack and should seek medical help immediately:
- your reliever inhaler doesn’t help
- the symptoms are getting worse
- you can’t talk properly because you’re too breathless
If you think you might have exercise induced asthma, talk to your doctor. They will be able to advise you on how to work out safely and reduce the risk of triggering symptoms.
Does running cause it?
The symptoms of exercise induced asthma can be triggered by any form of exercise, from a brisk walk to a game of football. An aerobic exercise such as running can trigger the symptoms, and as it is an exercise performed outside, the symptoms may be worse due to other factors that can aggravate asthma, including:
- environmental pollution such as car exhaust fumes
- colder air
- high pollen counts in the summer months
If running triggers asthma symptoms, then trying an anaerobic exercise (which involves short bursts of energy interspersed with slower exercise) could help you to avoid exercise induced asthma. Anaerobic forms of exercise include:
- table tennis
- team games, for example football or netball
- yoga or Pilates
Is there a cure for exercise induced asthma?
While there is not a cure for asthma or exercise induced asthma, the goal of any treatment is to control the condition. This is done by medication (such as inhalers which either prevent or relieve asthma symptoms) and by managing your asthma well.
To reduce the risk of exercise induced asthma you should:
- take your medication as prescribed
- avoid the triggers that can make your asthma worse, for example if your asthma is triggered by continuous aerobic exercise such as running, try an anaerobic exercise instead
- attend yearly asthma reviews with your nurse or doctor
What are the treatments for exercise induced asthma?
The treatments for exercise induced asthma are the same as for chronic (long term) asthma. Asthma medications can treat the symptoms of asthma, as well as prevent them from occurring.
Ventolin (salbutamol) is a reliever inhaler that quickly relieves the symptoms of exercise induced asthma. Preventer inhalers such as Pulmicort, Seretide, Symbicort, Fostair and Clenil Modulite help to control your asthma symptoms and reduce the risk of an asthma attack.
If you think you may have exercise induced asthma, speak to your doctor who will ask you about your medical history and advise you on the best treatment for you.
Exercise is an important part of staying healthy, and with the right treatment and good asthma management, you should be able to find an exercise that you can safely enjoy.