Running and asthma would seem to be mutually exclusive, but look no further than marathon-world-record holder Paula Radcliffe of Great Britain, who was diagnosed with exercise-induced asthma at the age of 14, to see that it's possible for asthmatics to enjoy—and excel at—a cardio-intensive sport like running.
Bill Roberts, M.D., medical director for the Twin Cities Marathon and a professor at the University of Minnesota Medical School in St. Paul, Minnesota, offers these six tips for runners who, like him, suffer from asthma. Follow Roberts' advice and you can hit the road and still breathe deeply.
1. Make Sure It's Asthma
Just because you wheeze or cough doesn't mean you have asthma. "There are several things that can mimic asthma, the most common being vocal-cord dysfunction," says Roberts. "I see a lot of that, especially in younger runners who are assumed to have asthma because they have a wheezing-like sound." See your physician for a diagnosis to ensure proper treatment.
2. Take Your Meds
Asthma medications work by relaxing the muscles around your airways. It's when these muscles constrict (an occurrence known as bronchospasm) that asthmatics experience wheezing, coughing, and difficulty breathing.
Quick-relief asthma medications such as Albuterol, which are often prescribed as rescue inhalers—so called because they are designed to ease symptoms within minutes—can also be used as prophylactic or preventive medication, says Roberts. So, runners with asthma can take a dose as directed a few minutes before a run to help manage symptoms.
If you have chronic asthma (that is, your symptoms aren't triggered solely by physical exertion), you'll probably need to be on a daily control medication, like an inhaled steroid, in addition to having a rescue inhaler.