Most athletes will experience exercise-induced asthma at least once in their careers. Even the likes of Amy Van Dyken, a six-time Olympic gold medalist, and Jerome Bettis, the NFL star, have reported suffering from it, too!
But don’t let it stop you from continuing with your fitness program. Here are the things – what, why and how – that you need to know about it so you can make smart decisions.
What Is It?
Also known as exercise-induced bronchospasm, it can occur in people with and without chronic asthma. But in true exercise-induced asthma, the affected person doesn’t have the signs of true asthma, as it were. These signs include inflammation in the lungs and adverse reactions to common asthma triggers including pollen, animal hair, and mold.
Instead, people with exercise-induced bronchospasm only experience the symptoms of asthma when they exercise. These symptoms can manifest themselves during the workout, as well as in varying intensity, duration, and frequency of attacks.
Its symptoms include:
- Tightness in the chest
- Shortness of breath
- Wheezing or coughing
- Decreased physical performance
These can usually start after several minutes into the workout with its peak time approximately 10 minutes into it.
Why Does It Happen?
According to studies, it affects up to 13% of the population in the United States. Scientists, however, have yet to understand why some athletes experience it while others don’t.
But scientists have identified several causes for it including water loss or temperature changes, sometimes both, which affect the lungs. In people with exercise-induced bronchospasm, their airways are unusually sensitive to the sudden and significant changes in humidity and temperature. This is especially true when the air has become colder and drier.
Plus, mouth breathing is common during exercise but it has adverse effects. Cold and dry air enters the lungs directly, which deprives them of the warmth and moisture needed for proper functioning.
How Can You Prevent and Treat It?
There’s no need to avoid exercise just because you have exercise-induced asthma. You can prevent and treat it using the following methods:
- Warm up before your workouts for at least 10 minutes. Be sure to gradually increase its intensity, too.
- Cover your mouth and nose when you’re exercising in a cold area (i.e., outdoors).
- Move your workouts to an indoor area, such as a gym.
- Use an inhaler containing albuterol, which has been proven effective in most people against the onset of exercise-induced asthma. Be sure to use it 15 minutes before your workout for best results; the effects can last from 4 to 6 hours after inhalation.
If these methods don’t work, you should see your doctor as there may be something else to your symptoms.