Physical activity can sometimes trigger exercise-induced asthma. However, exercise-induced asthma doesn’t mean that you have to put a stop to exercising or that you can’t live a healthy, functioning life. With the right preventative measures and/or a proper plan, it can be managed and you can continue with your exercise regime as normal.
What is exercise-induced asthma?
Exercise-induced asthma (EIA), or exercise-induced bronchoconstriction (EIB) is when asthma symptoms appear during exercise. While most people experience this have asthma, not everyone has to have asthma to get it.
The good news is that you can easily manage exercise-induced asthma and still continue on your normal exercising plan without worry. With a good plan in place, there’s no reason why it should prevent you from reaching your full exercise and sport potential.
Why do people get exercise-induced asthma?
Most people breathe through their noses on a daily basis, which causes the air to warm and moisten in the airways. However, physical activity causes breathing to increase significantly compared to when resting, causing most to breathe change to mouth breathing instead.
As a result, you breathe in colder and drier air, which also cools and dries the airways in the lungs. This then causes them to constrict. The smaller airways in the lungs mean that it can make it difficult to breathe.
- Shortness of breath
- Tightness in the chest
- Sore throat
- Poorer endurance/performance than expected
Be aware that these symptoms don’t need to occur only during physical activity; they can also appear after exercising, around 5-30 minutes afterwards.
There are also certain environmental factors that can exacerbate these symptoms or make it more likely to induce them. These triggers include:
- Air pollution
- Cold air
- Dry air
How to get diagnosed
As the symptoms of exercise-induced asthma are similar to symptoms if you’re out of shape or even if you’re just tired from exercise in general, it can be difficult to determine what’s causing them.
The best route of action is to see an allergist or doctor who can identify the root cause. The allergist will examine your allergen history as well as your family history and your exercise routine and habits.
They may run several tests such as measuring your breathing and heart rate before, during and after riding an exercise bike or running on the treadmill. Another common test is the spirometry test. This consists of blowing out of a tube or machine. Your doctor will measure how much air you can breathe in and out of your lungs as well as how fast and easily you can exhale.
Tips to manage exercise-induced asthma
If you’re diagnosed with exercise-induced asthma, then your doctor or allergist will recommend the best course of action to take for your specific case. In some cases, medication or an inhaler can be prescribed. However, here are some general tips that you can implement that can assist in managing and mitigating symptoms in your day-to-day life:
Warming up before exercise is always important. However, it is pivotal for those with exercise-induced asthma to do so to properly prepare the body and lungs for vigorous physical activity.
Try to breathe through your nose
When you start breathing increases from exercise, it’s a common tendency to start breathing through the mouth. However, this can trigger symptoms. If the exercise or sport you do enables you to, then try nasal breathing to mitigate any triggers and allow for warmer air to travel to the airways.
Do an outdoor quality check first
If you do your exercise outdoors, then it may be best to check the air quality before doing so. If there are high levels of pollen and/or pollution, then doing your training indoors might be a better option for that day.
If that isn’t possible, then try to cover your mouth or nose while exercising with a mask or scarf. This can alleviate the effects of pollen/dry air on your airways.
Maintain your exercise regime
While physical activity may lead to these symptoms, being as fit and healthy as possible can actually raise your body’s tolerance for exercise-induced asthma. So maintain your regular exercise sessions to increase your threshold.
Always bring your inhaler
If you are prescribed an inhaler, then ensure that you carry it with you at all times. This will make symptoms manageable as well as help de-escalate any potential circumstances by having it close by, even if it’s just by reducing stress and/or anxiety about your breathing.