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Asthma

Exercise & asthma

How to exercise with asthma | Symptoms of asthma from exercise | What to do in an asthma attack

Exercise can be a trigger for people when their asthma in not under good control. People with asthma should not avoid exercising. As long as your asthma is under control, exercising is recommended to keep your lungs and body in good shape.

Exercise helps you:

  • Strengthen your breathing muscles
  • Boost your immune system
  • Keep a healthy body weight

All of these benefits can improve your asthma in the long run. The key to exercise- make sure you asthma is under control before you start.

It's a fact: Having asthma does not mean you cannot exercise

Many well-known athletes have managed their asthma to successfully compete in their chosen sports. Famous athletes who have asthma include hockey player Gary Roberts and triathlete Sharon Donnelly.

If you have asthma that's triggered by exercise, you should follow your asthma action plan.

How to exercise with asthma:

1. Keep your blue rescue inhaler on you (in a pocket, a fanny pack, etc) at all times.

2. Check that your asthma is under control. If it's not under control, exercise could be dangerous.

3. Take your medications as directed. If you're having trouble breathing, you should take your rescue medicine (blue inhaler, for example, Ventolin). Your doctor may also ask you to take your blue rescue inhaler or another bronchodilator fifteen minutes before you exercise.

4. Warm up and cool down properly

  • Before exercising, warm up slowly by walking, stretching, and doing other low-level activities.
  • After you've finished exercising, cool down slowly for at least 10 minutes. Don't stop exercising all of a sudden. If you've been running, taper the run to a walking pace. If you've been swimming, finish your swim with a slow paddle. Give your body time to adjust.

5. Protect yourself from other asthma triggers while you're exercising (cold air, smog, pollen, etc.)

  • Pay attention to the air quality and temperature in the place you're planning to exercise. Use your good judgement. You may have to move your exercise to a place with better air quality.
  • If you are planning a run outside on a hot, humid, smoggy day, your asthma is likely to be made worse by the air and by exercise. Try running indoors, in an air-conditioned gym, instead.
  • If you are running on a grass field but are allergic to grass, your asthma may get worse,. Try running in the woods or on a paved trail.
  • If cold air is a trigger and you are cross-country skiing in 25 degrees below zero, your asthma may get worse. Try breathing through your nose or through a scarf, to warm the air up before it gets to your lungs. If your asthma symptoms are bad, wait until the temperature warms up before cross-country skiing.

6. If you have symptoms, stop exercising and take your blue rescue inhaler

  • Sit up. Wait a few minutes to see if your symptoms improve.
  • If your symptoms improve a lot, warm up again and slowly go back to exercising.
  • If your symptoms don't improve, take another dose of your blue rescue inhaler. Wait a few minutes to see if your symptoms improve.

7. If your symptoms still don't improve, follow these instructions:

Emergency Sign What to do in an asthma attack

  • STOP any activity
  • Take your blue rescue inhaler
  • Sit up
  • If the medicine is not working, call 911
  • If symptoms are not getting better, keep taking your blue rescue inhaler until the ambulance arrives
How does exercise trigger asthma symptoms?

Doctors think they know why some people's asthma is made worse by exercise (also called exercise-induced brochospasm or EIB).

Normally, people breathe through their nose. Your nose acts as an air filter. It controls the temperature and humidity of the air before it reaches your lungs.

When you exercise, your body wants more air. Your breathing speeds up to get more air. You start breathing through your mouth, so you can gulp down more air. But air that comes through your mouth has not been filtered, warmed, or humidified by your nose. This means the air that gets to your airways is cooler and drier than usual.

If you have asthma, your extra-sensitive airways don't like cool dry air. Your airways react: the muscles around the airways twitch and squeeze tighter. Tighter airways mean there is less space for the air to pass through. This makes you wheeze, cough, and feel short of breath.

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Obvious symptoms of asthma from exercise
  • Wheezing
  • Feeling short of breath
  • Chest feels tight
  • Coughing
Harder-to-notice Symptoms of asthma from exercise

Some people, especially kids, may have asthma symptoms that are harder to notice:

  • Chest congestion
  • Chest discomfort or pain
  • Sensitive to cold air (you always cough after coming in from playing outside)
  • Feel out of shape or winded
  • Get tired easily
  • Low energy
  • Can't keep up with friends when running and playing
  • Can't run five minutes without stopping
  • Dizziness
  • Stomach-ache
  • Frequent colds
  • Frequent throat clearing sounds
Many things can change how your lungs react to exercise. They are:
Your level of asthma control

If your asthma is well controlled, your airways will be less sensitive to exercise. You'll find exercise is less of a trigger for you.

If your asthma is not well controlled, your airways will be more fragile and vulnerable to exercise. You'll find exercise will be a bigger trigger for you.

Medically, we know that the more inflammation there is in your airways, the more hypersensitive or "twitchy" they are. If your airways are swollen, even little triggers can irritate them. Even a small amount of exercise could cause asthma symptoms in a person with swollen airways.

If you find exercise makes your breathing a lot worse, it could be a sign that your asthma is not controlled. Tell your doctor about your symptoms and ask how to get your asthma under control.

If your asthma is usually well-controlled, but you've got a cold, flu, or other respiratory infection, you could be more likely to get symptoms while exercising. If you've been sick, pay careful attention to your symptoms. It may be a good idea to exercise less while you're getting over your chest infection.

The temperature and air quality in the place you're exercising

Exercise is one trigger of asthma. If you combine the trigger of exercise with these other triggers from the environment around you, you're more likely to get asthma symptoms:

  • Cold air
  • Low humidity; therefore exercising in cold, dry air outside during the winter can be hazardous
  • Pollution in the air (outdoors, it could be smog, dust, or other pollution; indoors, it could be exhaust from a Zamboni, smoke, etc.)
  • Inhaled allergens: grass, pollen, ragweed, etc.
  • Irritants such as strong fumes from art supplies, cosmetics and smoke
  • Car and truck exhaust and pollutants from factories, especially sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, ground-level ozone
  • Respiratory infections - a recent cold may cause a person to have more difficulty than normal with exercise
  • Fatigue
  • Emotional stress
Type of exercise, how long it lasts, how hard you're working

You may find some kinds exercise are harder on your breathing than others. If your asthma is well controlled, you should be able to do every kind of exercise and sport. The one exception is SCUBA diving, which is not recommended for people with asthma because it can be dangerous for them.

If you find a certain exercise harder to do, you can:

  • Make sure you to a proper warm-up and cool-down
  • Take it at a slower pace- if other run eight laps during a practice, you can try running five laps

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Exercise-induced anaphylaxis

This is a rare but frightening and potentially fatal physical allergy. Food ingestion before vigorous activity has been associated with exercise-induced anaphylaxis; exercise-induced anaphylaxis occurs more commonly in hot, humid weather conditions and may also be related to severity of exertion. Follow emergency instructions, below:.

Emergency Sign What to do in an asthma attack

  • STOP any activity
  • Take your blue rescue inhaler
  • Sit up
  • If the medicine is not working, call 911
  • If symptoms are not getting better, keep taking your blue rescue inhaler until the ambulance arrives

To stay safe, remember:

Always keep your rescue inhaler with you (in a pocket, fanny pack, etc.) while your exercise. Don't leave it in your locker or in the car.

Never leave a person with asthma symptoms alone. Don't let them run off alone to get their inhalers.

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