Asthma is where the breathing passages become inflamed, causing lack of breath. A sufferer can experience sudden attacks, although the condition often comes and goes. Sometimes the symptoms can be severe and other times they can be quite mild. On occasions, there are no symptoms.
An asthma attack is a type of allergic reaction. Asthma can be triggered by various factors, which differ from person to person. These can include airborne contaminants such as dust, smoke or traffic fumes, airborne allergens such as molds or pollen, temperature or humidity extremes, respiratory infection, emotional stress and exercise.
Exercise-induced asthma is where a person suffers undue shortness of breath from physical exercise. At rest, most of us breathe through the nose and the air becomes warm and humid before it reaches the lungs. During vigorous exercise or sport, there is often a need for more air than can normally be inhaled via the nose. The shortfall is made up by breathing through the mouth. This colder, drier air increases blood flow to the lining of the airways, which causes them to swell and produce mucus, making it hard to breathe. For some people, this is their only type of asthma. People who suffer from exercise-induced asthma tend to be more sensitive to air temperature and humidity changes.
The condition is more common in sports requiring continuous effort such as long-distance running and soccer. Swimming tends to be an exception due to higher humidity near water. Less intense and stop-start sports aren’t as likely to cause attacks. Overall, symptoms can be worse with a cold, being unfit, pollution, dry air and cold weather. Winter athletes are more prone to exercise-induced asthma.
A person is at greater risk of suffering the condition if they live in a large city, smoke or are exposed to smoke, work with chemicals, are obese, had a low birth weight, or if the condition runs in the family. Interestingly, elite athletes are more likely to have the condition. Between one-third and two-thirds of Olympic participants have asthma. Experts think the high rate may be due to other medications taken by these people, but the rate does show that asthma medication is effective.
Symptoms of exercise-induced asthma include shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing, higher respiratory rate, chest pain or tightness, long recovery, and fatigue. Symptoms can start after a short period of activity or at the end of exercise. In children, symptoms may be harder to detect. Their only symptoms might be that they complain they can’t keep up in physical activities or they say they don’t like sport.
In a severe attack, a person may fall unconscious and turn blue from lack of oxygen. Or, after the initial attack, symptoms may ease or disappear for an hour or so. Athletes may bring on an attack by warming up for perhaps twenty minutes before their event, knowing they are likely to have few symptoms when they are running. Sometimes, a further attack can occur after six to ten hours with no more exercise.
A doctor can usually diagnose whether you have exercise-induced asthma. The doctor will discuss your health history, symptoms and any medications, and check your breathing. Tests will include breathing at rest and during and after exercise.
There are several measures to assess your breathing. A spirometer measures how much air is exhaled and how quickly. This can also be done before and after medication. It shows the extent of breathing impairment. A more portable gadget is a peak flow meter. It measures exhalation and can be taken with you to your sporting event. A further indicator is given by a pulse oximeter, which is put on your finger and measures the oxygen in your blood. There is no actual blood test for asthma.
Work out a plan to combat exercise-induced asthma with your doctor. You may need a combination of an inhaler or other medication, along with various tips to help reduce or avoid the condition.
A short-lasting bronchodilator-like albuterol should relieve symptoms fairly quickly. The doctor may say to take two puffs, one minute apart, and if that doesn’t work, take another puff every five minutes for up to half an hour until there is relief. This relaxes the breathing passage muscles and reduces resistance to exhaled air. The doctor might recommend a few puffs shortly before exercise as a matter of course. This should prevent an attack for four hours. At least 80 percent of people find it effective. Possible side effects are shakiness and rapid heartbeat.
A long-lasting beta-2 agonist bronchodilator such as salmeterol should give relief for about 12 hours and is suitable for children before going to school or sportspeople needing longer-term relief.
Less common medication your doctor might prescribe includes a mast cell stabilizer giving relief up to four hours or a leukotriene modifier lasting about 24 hours. Exercise-induced asthma can be treated with medication in nearly all cases.
Your plan should include various tips relating to your medication. The most important tip would normally be to only take the medications prescribed. If they don’t work, see your doctor again. Drugs to avoid may include cough medicine, aspirin and supplements. Other tips might include spending extra time warming up, avoiding exercise if you have a cold or the flu, exercising in a humid place, breathing through your nose during exercise as much as you can, avoiding cold temperatures and giving up smoking.
Exercise-induced asthma shouldn’t preclude you from your favorite sport. Symptoms can usually be brought under control through medication and by taking various actions to reduce or eliminate the attacks. See your doctor if your medication isn’t working or if you have other issues relating to your asthma.