Is Exercising Giving You Asthma Attacks?
Exercising is good for every single aspect of your body – your heart, your hormones, your bones, and on and on the list goes. And though most of us complain a bit that we have to do it, we all also seem to realize that we feel good after a sweaty session. At least, for the most part we feel good…
… Some of us just feel out of breath.
Almost every single person has experienced some shortness of breathing during or after exercising.
This is normal and to be expected. But other people deal with it at a much higher and more frequent level. Their symptoms may last longer and be more severe. Some may even experience their symptoms hours after exercising.
When this is the case, you probably have an exercise-induced asthma condition called EIB, which requires treatment. And this may be true even if you never experience asthma in any other circumstance.
So it leaves you thinking: does exercise cause asthma? Well, exercise isn’t technically a cause of asthma, but it can absolutely be a trigger.
The good news about exercise-induced asthma and EIB is that you don’t have to miss out on physical activity for the rest of your life. There are real solutions to this problem, you just have to take the initiative to find them.
Below you will find everything you need to know about asthma symptoms when you work out – why they pop up and how to get rid of them.
Exercise-Induced Bronchoconstriction (EIB) 101
When you get asthma from exercise, you have a condition called exercise-induced bronchoconstriction or EIB. Here’s how it works:
There are tubes that bring the air you breathe down into your lungs. When you have EIB, these tubes begin to narrow for many different reasons (see the list of potential triggers in the section below!). At this point you start experiencing typical asthma symptoms like:
- Shortness of breath
- Tightness in your chest
- Pain in your chest (though this is not very common)
With EIB, you can normally expect to get these symptoms somewhere around 5 to 20 minutes after you exercise. But everyone is a little different.
Some people with EIB never have asthma attacks at any other point in their lives. Other people have both EIB and regular asthma.
What Triggers Exercise-Induced Bronchoconstriction?
So we know what happens when you have EIB, but why does that happen?
There are different things that can trigger EIB. Some of the most common include:
- Cold, dry air: When you breathe through your nose normally, the air is both warmed and moistened before it goes into your lungs. During physical activity, you often breathe through your mouth. This cooler, drier air can sometimes trigger asthma attacks.
- More air: When you are breathing normally, you breathe in about one gallon of air every minute. When you are exercising, you bring in somewhere around two or three gallons per minute – and that number could even be higher.
- Allergies: All the allergens you breathe in normally that cause you asthma symptoms are still there when you are exercising, and the faster breathing can exacerbate the issue. Since many of us exercise outside, pollution, pollen, smoke, etc. can make matters worse.
- Vocal cord issues: This is not as common and should be addressed by your doctor.
Getting Diagnosed with Exercise-Induced Asthma
Normally it’s fairly simple to figure out whether or not exercise gives you asthma. If you struggle to breathe or wheeze/cough during and after physical activity, it’s probably a sure a thing.
But many people are simply out of shape. Your lack of cardio fitness and endurance can bring the exact same symptoms that seem to last longer too. A doctor can help you tell the difference.
No matter what, it’s important to still go into the doctor to tighten up that diagnosis. They will need to see if there are any allergens exacerbating the problem, and they should do two full breathing tests on you: one at rest and one during physical activity (like running on a treadmill).
An allergist or immunologist will help you figure out your particular triggers and give you the correct medications.
Should I Stop Exercising If I Get An Asthma Attack?
Quick answer: absolutely not! Your entire body – including your lungs – needs you to exercise regularly. In fact, if your EIB symptoms have more to do with being out of shape, you have to exercise in order to overcome and eventually lose those symptoms.
And those with EIB who aren’t just out of shape need to realize that the key is not avoidance, but figuring out how to make it better.
Knowing what types of activity to avoid can help. Exercises like marathon running/biking, basketball, soccer, hockey, etc. can be strenuous for long periods of time. Also, cold weather sports can be more difficult – like skiing.
Then there are great exercises for people with EIB – these include:
- Swimming: In a pool you have warmer, wetter air to breathe in – it’s an ideal choice, especially for those who miss longer cardio sessions
- Mild to moderate cardio: Walking, gentle biking, or trail hikes are good ways to get your heart beating without strenuous activity
- Some team sports (other than basketball or hockey): Since your energy will often be expended in short bursts instead of long, drawn-out cardio, your lungs will probably have an easier time. Baseball, volleyball, and football are good options.
Another great tip for those whose EIB is brought on by allergens is to work out inside. As much fun as it is to go on a run through beautiful nature, your lungs may shut down on you. Working out in your home or at a gym can help you avoid some of those pollutants. Plus, it’s temperature controlled.
Also, avoid exercise when you have any sort of respiratory infection or illness. There’s no need to add extra asthma symptoms. Just wait until you’re fully healed up.
If you are absolutely in love with some activities that are harder for people with exercise-induced asthma, there’s still good news. You don’t have to quit them altogether; treatment options can make your dream a reality, so let’s learn about them.
In fact, here’s a short video from the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America featuring a professional football player who learned how to overcome his asthma:
Treatment Options For Exercise-Induced Asthma
Luckily, there are quite a few things that both prevent EIB episodes and treat the symptoms once they’ve arrived. Each one of these treatments below is important for someone with EIB. Together, they are the way to keep exercising without losing your breath.
1. Emergency Medications
First off, you are probably going to get some sort of emergency inhaler to use when you wind up in an asthma attack. These are important to have with you at all times just in case more severe symptoms pop up.
There are different types of inhalers that respond differently, so talk to your doctor about which is best for you.
If your emergency inhaler fails to work properly, call emergency right away for assistance.
2. Controller Medications
Now we get to bronchodilators. These medications can prevent asthma symptoms before they begin, so you can take these pills before you start your activity.
- Some are more short-acting and need to be taken about 10 minutes before you exercise. These may also help you once you’re in an exercise-induced asthma attack, but your inhaler could be a better option.
- Others are more long acting and need to be taken around an hour before activity. These will never help your symptoms once they’ve already started.
It’s also possible that you could need other medications like steroids. That’s why it’s so important to visit your immunologist. He or she can help you figure out which of these medications is right for you and your activity level.
3. All-Natural Medications
On top of all the prescription medications available for asthmatics, there are also quite a few all-natural supplements that ease and prevent symptoms:
- Boswellia Extract (AKA: frankincense) is anti-inflammatory in nature
- Quercetin is an antioxidant that can actually block allergens
- Nettle Extract will limit inflammation in your pathways
- Coleus Forskohlii Extract acts like an antihistamine and has been used traditionally for asthma
- N-Acetyl-L-Cysteine is often used to treat all sorts of breathing ailments from bronchitis to asthma
- Butterbur Extract acts like an antihistamine without all that drowsiness
Since many of these ingredients are lesser known, it’s easiest to take them all together in one handy supplement. Eu Natural’s Breathe Sinus & Lung Respiratory Relief supplement combines all of them with vitamin D to help boost your natural response to allergies and asthma. Just take one capsule daily.
4. Warm Up and Cool Down
Every person should be both warming up and cooling down when they exercise because it’s good for the body. But this is even more true for those with EIB. Give yourself at least 5 to 10 minutes to ease your way into it.
Reversing that concept and easing your way to rest is important to – take another 10 minutes to slowly calm down and catch your breath. One way to do this is a short yoga routine.
5. Cover Your Mouth
When you go exercise, you can wear a mask. Or you may feel more comfortable just wrapping a light scarf around your mouth, so you can still breathe in and out while allergens are somewhat blocked and air gets warmed up.
Exercising with EIB
Of course, if you find yourself having uncomfortable or severe symptoms, you should stop exercising for the day. Perhaps it was just a bad day, or maybe you need to head back into your doctor for some medication adjustment.
But whatever you do – don’t give up exercising over the duration of your life. Finding the ideal balance of medications and all-natural supplements can make exercising not only possible, but also enjoyable.
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