Exercise Induced Asthma

May 14, 2008 | Health, May 2008

To exercise or not: That is the question

by Erica Haller-Stevenson, MPH, CHES

Asthma is a chronic lung disease that causes breathing problems known as asthma attacks. During an asthma attack, the cells in the air tubes of the lungs produce a thick sticky mucus causing the air tubes to obstruct. In addition, the muscles in the air tubes tighten, causing them to narrow and making it hard to breathe. Asthma attacks are caused by several things, which are called “triggers.”

These can include …
• A cold, the flu, or respiratory infection.
• Air pollutants such as cigarette smoke, ozone, vehicle exhaust or dust.
• Allergens like pollen, animal hair, mold or dust.
• Stress or excitement.
• Vigorous exercise.

Most asthmatics (90 percent) suffer from exercise-induced asthma (EIA). However, some people who are not chronic asthmatics experience symptoms only during exercise.

The triggers associated with EIA often involve the following:
• Breathing airborne pollens when exercising.
• Exercising when ill.
• Exercising in cold dry air.
• Breathing air pollutants while exercising.

If you, or someone you know, is experiencing these symptoms, contact your doctor or other medical care provider for further testing. EIA can be diagnosed through a medical history, physical examination and by performing breathing tests, such as peak-flow testing during and after exercise.

So does a diagnosis of EIA mean you can’t exercise?
Absolutely not. It just means you have to take precautions when exercising. You should consult your medical care provider before you begin a new physical activity program. Then choose an appropriate exercise activity that won’t aggravate your lungs. The best types of activities are those that allow for short bursts of exertion but offer periods of rest. Some of these activities are swimming, tennis, golf, baseball, volleyball, wrestling, football, hiking, leisure biking and walking.

One of the best types of exercise for those with EIA is swimming. This is because of the warm humid environment; it also allows for intermittent breathing and is available throughout the year.

Some types of activities, such as soccer, distance running, basketball and field hockey, should be avoided by people with EIA because of the physical and continuous demand on the respiratory system and potential for triggering EIA. Playing a sport during cold weather days can also trigger an episode of EIA.

Here is a list of other things you can do to prevent episodes of EIA:
• Be certain that your asthma is controlled prior to beginning an exercise program.
• Restrict exercise when you are sick.
• Increase physical conditioning.
• Warm up for 10 minutes before you begin.
• If you experience symptoms while you are exercising, stop and rest.
• Keep your medication available during activity.
• Drink plenty of water.
• Cool down for 10 minutes after exercise to allow your airways to recover.

For additional information on EIA, contact the American Lung Association of Texas at (210) 308-8978 or visit www.breathehealthy.org.Erica Haller-Stevenson, MPH, CHES, is the Community & Media Liaison for Steps to a Healthier San Antonio, San Antonio Metro Health District. The program is part of Steps to a HealthierUS, a national program focusing on the prevention of diabetes, obesity and asthma by addressing related risk factors such as poor nutrition, physical inactivity and tobacco use and exposure.

South Texas Fitness & Health