Learning About Asthma Exacerbation and Sports

Learning About Asthma Exacerbation and Sports
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Asthmatics can be physically active, and in fact, they should participate in some kind of physical activity. Exercise strengthens the respiratory systems of everyone who participates in a sport or works out. Far from the old idea that an asthmatic should avoid physical activity, you need to find the sport that fits your interests and that does not trigger asthma attacks.

What is Exercise-induced Asthma?

Asthma exacerbation and sports can be a dangerous combination. Should you let that stop you from participating in a physical activity or workout you enjoy – and need? No.

Exercise-Induced Asthma, or EIA, is triggered by physical activity, states the Asthma Initiative of Michigan for Healthy Lungs. [1] The University of Maryland Medical Center points out that EIA can be “caused by varying degrees of exercise.” [2] Asthmatics who are prone to EIA can develop symptoms during or a little after taking part in physical activity. What sets one person off may not set off another asthmatic.

How Does Exercise Exacerbate Your Asthma?

“Strenuous” exercise forces the airways to narrow – approximately 80 percent of asthmatics develop symptoms of EIA, says WebMD. Strenuous exercise includes sprinting, long-distance running or any sport or physical activity that forces the asthmatic to increase their breath rates.

If you suffer from EIA, you can develop symptoms within the first 10 minutes of beginning your physical activity. These symptoms resolve within 20 to 30 minutes, but you may also fall into the 50 percent of asthmatics who experience a “rebound” attack 6 to 10 hours later. [3]

Symptoms of EIA

If you suffer from EIA, you will develop chest tightness, difficulty breathing and coughing, writes WebMD. [3]

AIM points out that asthmatics who are triggered by exercise begin breathing fast and hard. In addition, they wheeze during an EIA attack. [1]

Does Anything Else Make EIA Worse?

During exercise, the asthmatic breathes harder and more quickly, meaning she is inhaling colder, drier air. During normal breathing, she breathes in air that her nose and mouth have moistened and warmed before it enters her throat and lungs.

As she exercises and breathes more quickly, the bands of muscle respond to the cooler, drier air and they tighten around her airways.

Most chronic asthmatics develop asthma symptoms during exercise; some without this disease develop symptoms only during physical activity, states WebMD. [4]

Asthmatics who suffer from chronic asthma can see their EIA symptoms made even worse if they suffer from seasonal allergies, says AIM. [1]

Preventing EIA

Asthmatics with EIA can prevent symptoms with just a few steps. Before they become active, they should take time to warm up. After they finish working out or playing, they need to give their bodies time to cool down, allowing their heart rates and breathing rates to slow.

Every asthmatic, whether diagnosed with EIA or not, should use their inhalers before beginning exercise. The preferred medications include beta-2 agonists like Albuterol. If they take two puffs of Albuterol 15 to 20 minutes before beginning exercise, they can help prevent their airways from constricting. In addition, they are able to control EIA symptoms two to three hours after they stop exercising. Asthmatic should also keep their inhaler close by while exercising, just in case.

A long-acting beta-2 agonist like Foradil or Serevent should be used in the morning. These medications can help asthmatics avoid EIA symptoms all day long.

On days when the pollen count or air pollution levels are high and when temperatures are very low, asthmatics should avoid exercising. If they are sick with sinus infections, flu or colds, they should restrict physical activity as well, advises WebMD. [4]

Famous Athletes with Asthma

To prove the case that asthmatics who experience EIA can exercise, here is a list of famous athletes, all of whom suffer from asthma:

Jerome Bettis, professional football player

Kurt Grote, Olympic swimming medalist

Bruce Davidson, Olympic equestrian

Nancy Hogshead, Olympic swimming medalist

Tom Dolan, Olympic swimming medalist

Jim Hunter, professional baseball player

Christ Draft, professional football player

Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Olympic track medalist

Greg Louganis, Olympic diving medalist

Bill Koch, Olympic cross-country skiing medalist

Tom Malchow, Olympic swimming medalist

Art Monk, professional football player

Debbie Meyer, Olympic swimming medalist

George Murray, Boston marathon winner and wheelchair athlete

Dennis Rodman, professional basketball player

Robert Muzzio, decathlete

Jim Ryun, Olympic track medalist

Isaiah Thomas, professional basketball player

Alberto Salazar, marathon runner

Amy Van Dyken, Olympic swimming medalist

Dominique Wilkins, professional basketball player

Ray Bourque, NHL hockey player

Best Sports for Asthmatics

For those who have a problem with asthma exacerbation and sports, some physical activities are better than others. These include activities with short, intermittent periods of physical exertion – gymnastics, baseball, volleyball, wrestling and walking. Swimming is well-tolerated by those with asthma because of the environment swimmers are in – warm and moist.

Activities requiring lengthy periods of exertion - distance running, basketball, soccer or field hockey may not be as beneficial for asthmatics. Cold-weather sports, too, may be a problem. These include ice-skating, cross-country skiing or ice hockey. This does not mean that an asthmatic cannot participate in this sport at all. Looking at the list of asthmatic athletes, some have won Olympic medals or developed careers in these sports. [4]


[1] Sports, Other Activities, and Asthma. Asthma Initiative of Michigan for Healthy Lungs, retrieved at https://www.getasthmahelp.org/kids_sports.asp

[2] Asthma Attacks. University of Maryland Medical Center, retrieved at https://www.umm.edu/non_trauma/asthma.htm

[3] Asthma Causes and Triggers. WebMD, retrieved at https://www.webmd.com/asthma/guide/asthma-triggers

[4] Exercise-Induced Asthma. WebMD, retrieved at https://www.webmd.com/asthma/guide/exercise-induced-asthma

Asthmatic Boy Credit Arvind Balaraman: https://www.freedigitalphotos.net/images/view_photog.php?photogid=1058