As the name suggests, exercise induced asthma is asthma that is triggered by exercise or physical exertion. Almost everyone with chronic asthma experiences symptoms of asthma when exercising.
However, a small number of people who don’t suffer from chronic asthma also develop asthma symptoms during exercise. In order to properly understand exercise induced asthma, it’s important to understand asthma as a condition.
What is asthma?
Asthma is a common condition affecting the lungs, which causes symptoms such as a cough or breathlessness. Asthma symptoms generally come and go, and often vary in severity over time. Treatment is generally straightforward, and asthma should be no barrier to a normal and healthy life.
What causes asthma and how?
- If you have asthma, then your airways will be particularly sensitive to irritants. Irritants (triggers) vary from person to person and can include dust, cigarette smoke, animal hair, cold air, viruses, and pollen. Exercise can also induce asthma.
- An irritated airway reacts by narrowing. The muscles in its walls tighten and the linings of the air sacs become inflamed and swell causing wheezing, a tight chest, cough and/or breathlessness.
How exercise can induce asthma symptoms
When breathing normally you inhale through your nose. The air you inhale is warmed and moistened by the nasal passages. Exercise causes you to breathe faster and through the mouth. The faster breathing doesn’t allow the nasal passages to warm and moisturise the air inhaled, air inhaled through the mouth is always colder and drier anyway.
In response to the change in temperature and humidity the muscle bands around the airways narrow, which causes the airways to tighten. This triggers symptoms of asthma such as:
- Tight chest
Managing exercise induced asthma
Suffering from exercise induced asthma doesn’t mean you should stop exercising altogether. Indeed many Olympic athletes and famous sportspeople have asthma, whether exercise-induced or chronic. If you haven’t been diagnosed with chronic asthma, but experience symptoms when exercising, you should consult your GP for advice on how best to manage it.
Useful tips include:
- Warm up before exercise.
- Use an asthma reliever inhaler 10-15 minutes before exercise.
- Take note of conditions. Limit exercise on high pollen days or if the temperature is particularly cold.
- Exercise at a suitable level. Don’t push yourself too hard or far.
- Pick your exercise carefully. Team sports are less likely to induce asthma than high intensity sports like tennis or squash. Swimming is also a safer option.
- Take your reliever inhaler with you while exercising. If symptoms start, stop and take a puff, and wait until you feel better before starting up again. If symptoms do not settle then do not resume exercise.
- Warm down after exercise.
Treating your Asthma
Asthma can have many different causes and triggers, from exercise to cats, dust, stress and flu.
Here are some general tips on treating asthma, whatever the cause:
- Inhalers. There are two types of inhalers: relievers (taken to treat asthma symptoms when they occur), and preventers (taken on a daily basis to reduce the chance of developing symptoms).
- Personal Action Plan (PAP). A PAP helps you manage your asthma and record your symptoms. You can obtain a PAP from your GP or practice nurse or by registering for our Asthma Treatment Service.
- Asthma Control Test (ACT). An ACT asks specific questions to measure how well your asthma is being controlled. We use the ACT in our online clinic.
If you put up with regular, troublesome symptoms – and lots of people do – then some simple adjustments to your inhalers and how you take them may well make all the difference. Always ask for help (from your online doctor if you have used our service, or from your GP) if you cannot get your symptoms under control.
Through our online service, our doctors can prescribe the most common inhalers and provide you with a Personal Action Plan, all without the need for a face-to-face visit.