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Exercise-Induced Asthma

Asthma Sufferer? You No Longer Need to Sit on the Sidelines

Proper Diagnosis and Treatment

Asthma is a lung disease inherited or may develop as a severe allergic reaction to pollen, dust, viruses, tobacco smoke, and other substances. Exercise Induced Asthma (EIA) is a common form of asthma. EIA usually occurs in patients with pre-existing asthma and only when a person exercises. Others with chronic asthma can develop symptoms at any time.

Exercise-induced asthma does not have to prevent you from exercising, engaging in a challenging sport, or your favorite physical activity. In fact, exercise may benefit asthma patients with proper treatment, the right amount of medication, and while following a regular physically active schedule with graduated intensity. Those with EIA may not have asthma or exhibit any other symptoms at any time.

Other EIA triggers include cold or dry air, which causes the airway in the lungs to narrow, thus, tightening up the chest muscles even more, making breathing more difficult. These symptoms occur six to ten minutes after exercise and may prevent continued physical activity. If not recognized and treated, one may continue to play with a partially tight chest. The chest may open independently after an hour or two; however, recognizing and treating EIA is very important. Otherwise, people may avoid playing sports and enjoy physical activities altogether. Patients should be checked and evaluated by an allergist or a pulmonologist. Doctors will evaluate a patient’s medical history, conduct a physical examination, and perform a lung function test in order to confirm the diagnosis. Lung function tests may be required before and after exercise to determine how much loss of function occurs.

Preventative Measures and Medications

There are no medications currently available that can eradicate exercise-induced asthma. Usually, using a metered-dose inhaler before starting your exercise can prevent EIA. Inhalers that dilate the airways, such as Ventolin (albuterol) and Maxair (pirbuterol), are often used. Other medications that prevent spasms, such as (cromolyn), may be effective before symptoms occur. A newer drug called Tilade (nedocromil sodium) has been shown to be effective when used before exercising. With these preventative measures, you should be able to participate in sports or vigorous activities.

In addition, it is essential that you warm up slowly before exercising and cool down slowly afterward. Wearing a mask over the mouth in cold air also makes breathing easier. Finally, you should keep your inhaler available during exercise if breathing problems arise. It’s always a good idea to carry a rescue inhaler, a water or juice bottle, your identification, emergency phone number, allergies list, and doctor’s information.

Necessary Guidelines for Enjoying Physical Activity

Luckily, exercise-induced asthma is controllable and, if treated properly, can be preventable. Medications are safe; using them is the best way to control exercise-induced asthma. However, if you warm up first by stretching and jogging, you can better manage your exercise routine. In fact, research shows that exercise is one of the goals of a successful asthma management plan. An exercise-induced asthma sufferer can dramatically improve his or her exercise tolerance level by following these guidelines:

  • Consult your doctor about starting an asthma-friendly sport and ask about pre-medicating and rescue medications if an attack occurs. Rescue medications include albuterol and mast cell stabilizers such as cromolyn.
  • Exercise with a friend. Be sure that somebody is there for you who knows what to do in case an episode should occur.
  • Know your body and its physical limits. Breathing through your nose prevents airway drying, coughing, and wheezing.
  • Take breaks frequently and drink plenty of fluids.
  • Stop immediately if asthma symptoms occur while exercising. Use your rescue inhaler and contact your physician.
  • Avoid known asthma triggers.
  • Use asthma pumps before exercise to prevent chest tightness, wheezing, and coughing.
  • Use a reliever bronchodilator once an episode of coughing or wheezing occurs.
  • If an attack occurs despite the use of a reliever medication before an event, repeat use of this medication. Stop the activity if the symptoms continue.
  • Use a peak flow meter to determine your optimal level of exercise. After an episode of wheezing and/or coughing, one can resume physical activity when the peak flow meter reading has returned to within 80% of the expected value and you can exercise normally and safely. Your doctor can help you make this decision.

Asthma-Friendly Sports

Those whose asthma is managed correctly can easily play the sport of their choice. A sport needs to meet specific criteria for it to be asthma friendly. An asthma-friendly activity should allow you to control your breathing at all times, meaning you should be able to breathe through your nose to properly warm and humidify the air. The activity shouldn’t promote coughing, air trapping, or airway drying. You should be able to rest and drink fluids whenever necessary. Asthma-friendly sports include walking, bicycling, swimming, rollerblading, fishing, and kickboxing. The only sport asthmatics should not participate in is scuba diving.


Walking is the world’s most popular exercise and can be taken up at any age. Walking is also the most adaptable physical activity because it can be done indoors and outside. Tailoring the distance you’ll cover depends on your physical condition and the severity of your asthma. Start with short walks close to home, and graduate to longer walks when you’re ready. Walking with friends or joining a walking club can alleviate boredom. Treadmills and mall walking are great sources of indoor exercise and allow you the freedom to exercise during inclement weather conditions. It’s essential to take breaks when necessary.


There’s nothing like taking a leisurely ride on your bike with the wind blowing in your hair. Second to walking, bicycling is another one of those adaptable exercises tailored to fit the needs of your specific ability and endurance. Bicycling is also instrumental as an indoor sport offering the same aerobic result.


Swimming not only keeps you in shape, sheds a few pounds, and leaves you feeling invigorated, but studies show that swimming is one of the optimum physical activities for people of all ages. Done indoors and out, swimming allows you to participate in water aerobics and keep your heart rate up.


Rollerblading can be an enjoyable outside and inside activity. It makes a good family activity at skating rinks as well. Inline skating is an enjoyable activity that can be done with or without friends, offers places to rest, and allows you to control and limit your distance.


One of the most recognized activities for relaxation is fishing. There are many ways to enjoy fishing, ranging from the extremely relaxed to an all-out endurance challenge of deep-sea angling. Because fishing requires upper body strength, this keeps fishing within the physical constraints of many activities. Because fishing is a year-round activity, those sensitive to the cold air may want to avoid ice fishing without access to the indoors. Other outdoor triggers to watch for include pollen and air pollution.


Kickboxing qualifies as an asthma-friendly sport because it is an aerobic activity aimed at overall physical conditioning and muscle toning. There is much stretching involved in kickboxing, and although it is a contact sport, a plethora of equipment and gear is involved in protecting yourself.

As always, consult your physician before beginning any regular exercise program. Start out slowly and increase your endurance when you feel ready and include friends for both company and as possible aids in an emergency.

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