Most asthmatics have symptoms of wheezing during or following exercise. In addition, many non-asthmatic patients with allergies or a family history of allergy experience bronchospasm or constricted airways caused by exercise. Other symptoms include an accelerated heart rate, coughing and chest tightness occurring five to ten minutes after exercise. The following can worsen symptoms:
- Exposure to cold air and low humidity, which increase heat loss from the airways;
- Nasal blockage, which prevents air from being humidified and warmed in the nose;
- Air pollutants, such as sulfur dioxide, high pollen counts, viral respiratory tract infections, and hot muggy air.
Activities most likely to cause wheezing (in order of severity):
- Free running (most likely to induce asthma)
- Treadmill running
- The asthma specialist takes a patient history of wheezing and other asthmatic symptoms;
- A breathing test is done while the patient is at rest to see if the patient has undiagnosed asthma. This test may be repeated after exercise;
- Specialized tests, which can include cycling, running or treadmill tests, are performed.
For years, asthmatic children and adults felt that they could not take part in team and recreational sports or vigorous activities. Today, with proper detection and treatment, those affected by exercise-induced asthma and bronchospasm can participate on a level playing field with those who do not have asthma. People with asthma can become accomplished in a wide variety of sports, exercise, and recreational activities, which are beneficial to both physical and emotional health and well-being.
- Carefully select exercise activities such as walking, light jogging, leisure biking, and hiking, rather than strenuous outdoor running sports. Swimming is often recommended for asthmatics because of its many positive factors: a warm, humid atmosphere, year-round availability, and the body’s horizontal position, which may help to mobilize mucus from the bottom of the lungs. (In fact, some Olympic swimmers have severe asthma.)
Other activities recommended include sports that involve using short bursts of energy, such as baseball, football, wrestling, short distance track and field events, golfing, gymnastics, and surfboarding. Cold weather events, such as cross-country skiing and ice hockey, or long-distance, non-stop activities like basketball, field hockey or soccer are not recommended, as they are more likely to aggravate airways. However, many asthmatics have found that with proper training, care, and prescribed medications, they are able to excel at any sport.
- Drugs administered prior to exercise, such as albuterol, metaproterenol, terbutaline, cromolyn sodium, nedocromil, and theophylline are all helpful treatment options in controlling and preventing exercise-induced bronchospasm. However, it is very important for everyone with exercise-induced asthma to have a breathing test at rest to assure that they do not have undiagnosed chronic asthma.
- Athletes should restrict exercising when they have viral infections, when pollen and air pollution levels are high, or when temperatures are extremely low.
- It is important to do warm-up exercises and stretches before exercising. These make for a safer workout, since they slowly increase breathing levels and alleviate chest tightness.
Ask your allergist for more information on exercise-induced asthma and bronchospasm.
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