How to Stay Active When You Have Asthma

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How to Stay Active When You Have Asthma

Asthma is a chronic disease that causes the airways in your lungs to swell and fill with mucus, making it difficult to breathe. The condition also tightens the muscles around your airways, constricting your respiration even more. During an asthma attack, you may: 

  • Have trouble taking a deep breath
  • Feel as though you’re not getting enough air
  • Find it difficult to exhale completely 
  • Wheeze and experience shortness of breath
  • Develop chest tightness or start coughing

About 26.5 million Americans — one in 12 people, or 8.3% — have asthma. If you’re one of them, you know the condition is always with you; you also know that asthma symptoms only flare up when something bothers your lungs.    

If exercise aggravates your asthma, our seasoned team at Allergy A.R.T.S. in Amarillo, Texas, can help. Here, Dr. Constantine K. Saadeh and Dr. Nicole Davey-Ranasinghe discuss exercise-induced asthma, and explain how to avoid symptom flare-ups when you work out.  

Understanding common asthma triggers 

Common triggers — things that set off asthma or make symptoms worse — include: 

  • Outdoor allergens such as pollen, mold, and fungi spores
  • Poor outdoor air quality or very cold or dry air
  • Indoor allergens such as dust mites, mold, and pet dander
  • Emotional stress including intense anger, crying, or laughing
  • Respiratory ailments like colds, influenza, COVID-19 

Physical activity is another common asthma trigger. Referred to as exercise-induced asthma, it causes wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath, and chest tightness during or after a workout, and the symptoms sometimes come back during rest. 

How does exercise trigger an asthma attack?

Exercise-induced asthma is very common: About 90% of people with diagnosed asthma experience symptom flare-up during or after exercise. Additionally, about 10% of people who don’t have diagnosed asthma also experience activity-induced airway constriction.

While vigorous physical activity can trigger an asthma attack in the absence of exacerbating factors, exercise-induced asthma is more likely to occur when:

  • Air is cold and dry
  • Air quality is low 
  • Pollen counts are high 

It’s also more likely to occur when you exercise while recovering from a respiratory illness or when your indoor workout environment subjects you to chemical fumes from paint or cleaning products.      

Cold, dry air is one of the most common co-triggers of exercise-induced asthma. During normal breathing, your nasal passageway warms and humidifies incoming air, but as respiration increases during moderate or vigorous exercise, you breathe more through your mouth. This pulls cold, dry air directly into your lungs and lower airways, where it triggers airway constriction and asthma symptoms.

Preventing asthma attacks when you’re active

Exercise-induced asthma is readily preventable with the right approach. In fact, one of our primary goals as physicians who treat asthma — and help asthma patients create a solid asthma action plan — is to ensure that you keep exercising. 

Why? Aside from providing a myriad of invaluable physical and mental health benefits, regular physical activity helps improve circulation and lung capacity, two important advantages for anyone with a chronic lung disease like asthma.    

Most people with asthma can participate in all types of exercise. To reduce your risk of developing symptoms when you’re active, it’s important to keep your asthma well controlled. 

Your asthma action plan may also require you to use your quick-relief inhaler about 15-20 minutes before you exercise — even if your symptoms are well controlled. Two puffs of medicine can help prevent airway spasms for several hours.   

We also recommend that you:  

  • Start every workout with a 10-minute warmup to help your airway adjust
  • Conclude each workout with a 10-minute cooldown for the same reason
  • Breathe through a scarf when exercising outdoors in colder temperatures
  • Avoid exercising outdoors in frigid temperatures; head to the gym instead
  • Exercise indoors and limit strenuous outdoor activities if air quality is low
  • Skip vigorous workouts when you’re recovering from a respiratory illness

If you feel chest tightness, start coughing, or become short of breath during exercise, stop the activity right away and use your quick-relief inhaler. Only resume your workout once your symptoms abate. If your asthma symptoms flare for a second time, use your quick-relief inhaler again until your symptoms subside — and save your workout for another day. 

There’s no reason to let your asthma hold you back. With the right asthma action plan, you can be as active as you want to be. Call Allergy A.R.T.S. to learn more about asthma management, or use our easy online booking feature to request an appointment anytime.