This condition, known as exercise-induced asthma, occurs when physical activity causes your airways to tighten up. For many people, anything more strenuous than a brisk walk – such as running or playing basketball – can trigger these symptoms. The good news is there are ways to reduce your risk of having an exercise-induced asthma attack without completely avoiding vigorous exercise.
Why Do You Get Wheezy?
First, let’s take a look at why you start coughing, wheezing or feeling short of breath when you exercise. If you’re like most people, you breathe through your mouth when you start exerting yourself because your body needs more oxygen. The air through your mouth tends to be dryer than the air that enters through your nose. In the winter months, this dry, cool air can irritate your airways and cause them to narrow, which leads to symptoms of exercise-induced asthma. Other factors, such as pollen, can also trigger these symptoms.
How Do You Avoid the Symptoms?
Taking steps to escape from the triggers of asthma symptoms, such as cold air or pollutants, will help you to enjoy your workout. It may start with advice from your physician. He or she can prescribe medicine or an inhaler to take before and/or after working out and recommend safe ways to exercise.
To avoid things that could ruin your workout, keep these tips in mind:
- Stay indoors when it’s cold. OK, maybe it’s basic, but it makes sense. Exercise inside instead of getting yourself all bundled up and braving the cold. Hit the gym or consider purchasing a treadmill or other cardio equipment to workout inside your home. If you insist on working out outside when it’s cold, wrap a scarf around the lower half of your face to protect your lungs from the cold air.
- Think twice before diving in. While swimming is a great way to work out, don’t overdo it. Having to take deep breaths repeatedly means you may be more likely to start to wheeze or cough. Keep in mind that chlorine can also irritate your airways.
- Pass on the pollen and pollution. If you have allergic asthma, keep your workouts indoors when pollen takes over outside or when the air pollution count is higher than normal (even during the warmer months). Dealing with these asthma triggers alone boosts your chances of having symptoms. Adding physical activity where pollen and pollution are present may place even more stress on your airways.
Just What the Doctor Ordered
Ask your doctor about pre-exercise medicines that can prevent or lower your chance of having asthma symptoms during a workout. These include:
- Ipratropium which helps your airways relax and may reduce the chance of them narrowing when you’re exercising.
- Short-acting beta agonists which open up your airways.
Your doctor might also recommend sticking to activities like walking, volleyball, baseball or gymnastics since you get a bit more downtime during these activities. Bottom line: consult your doctor to determine the best plan for you so you can still stay fit!
One Last Tip
Findings from research at Indiana University indicate that people suffering from asthma can reduce the chance their airways will narrow during exercise by warming up first.1 Warming up also decreases the risk of injury and post-exercise muscle stiffness. Also, be kind to your airways by cooling down after exercise.