Approximately 7% of the population, or about 18 million Americans, are reported to suffer from asthma. With strenuous physical exercise, most of these individuals experience asthma symptoms. In addition, many non-asthmatic patients, at least 11% of the population, ¬experience asthma associated symptoms with exercise.
Symptoms and Triggers
In exercise-induced asthma (EIA), patient may experience breathing diffi¬culty within 5-20 minutes after exercise. Symptoms may include wheez¬ing, chest tightness, coughing and prolonged shortness of breath, often beginning 5-10 minutes after brief exercise.
Patients with EIA have airways that are overly sensitive to sudden changes in temperature and humidity, especially when breathing colder, drier air. During strenuous activity, people tend to breathe through their mouths, allowing the cold, dry air to reach the lower airways without passing through the warming, humidifying effect of the nose. In addition to mouth breathing, air pollutants, high pollen counts, and viral respiratory tract infections can also increase the severity of wheezing with exercise.
Perform a breathing test (PFT) when the patient is at rest to ensure that the patient does not have asthma. If the baseline (PFT) is normal, doctor may perform a breathing test after exercise.
Although the type and duration of recom¬mended activity vary with each individual, some activities are better for those with EIA. Swimming is often considered the sport of choice for asthmat¬ics and those with a tendency toward bronchospasm leading to EIA. Walking, leisure biking are also activities less likely to trigger EIA. A warm-up period of activity before exercise may lessen the chest tightness that occurs after exertion. A warm-down period, including stretching and jogging after strenuous activity, may prevent air in the lungs from changing rapidly from cold to warm, and may prevent EIA symptoms that occur after exercise.
Team sports that require short bursts of energy, such as baseball, wrestling, golfing, gymnastics, short-term track and field events are less likely to trigger asthma than sports requiring continuous activity such as soccer, football, basketball, field hockey or long-distance running. Cold weather activities such as cross-country skiing and ice hockey are also more likely to aggravate airways.
However, many asthmatics have found that with proper training and medical treatment, they are able to excel. Pursed (narrowed) lip breathing may also help reduce airway obstruction. Inhaled medications taken prior to exercise are helpful in controlling and preventing exercise induced symptoms
It is advisable to restrict exercising when patients’ have asthma symptoms, viral infections, when temperatures are extremely low, or high. If they are allergic: when pollen and air pollution levels are high.