8 Steps to Deal With Exercise-Induced Asthma

Credit: Mike Hewitt/Allsport
Exercise-induced asthma (EIA) kicks in about five to 10 minutes after you begin a steady, hard workout, when your heart rate reaches about 80 percent of maximum.

If you stop running soon after the EIA begins, your symptoms will likely peak in about five to 10 minutes and disappear within an hour. EIA is worsened by cold, dry air, which robs the bronchial tubes of warmth and moisture.

Asthma occurs when the breathing (bronchial) tubes in your lungs narrow. When the lining of the tubes swells (and produces mucus) while the muscles surrounding the tubes constrict, it becomes difficult to force air out of the lungs. Any air exhaled through the narrow tubes makes a wheezing sound.

Your doctor can confirm the diagnosis by listening for wheezing when you run or by recording a drop in your peak flow of exhaled air. Your doctor also can design a therapeutic program for you. Meantime, here are some basic tips:

1. Warm up. Brief warmups dilate bronchial tubes. Try a few easy, five-minute exercise periods before you set out to run.

2. Use an inhaler. Twenty minutes before you run, take two puffs of a muscle-relaxant spray drug, or bronchodilator. Ask your physician to prescribe a bronchodilator for EIA.

3. Drink coffee. A cup or two of coffee or tea before you run can help dilate your bronchial tubes.

4. Find your time. If your asthma is worse in the morning, run in the afternoon. But also consider this: Pollen can worsen EIA, and pollen counts tend to be highest in the afternoon and early evening.

5. Breathe warm air.Try breathing through your nose as much as possible instead of through your mouth. Covering your nose and mouth with a scarf or ski mask helps warm the air.

6. Get away from pollution. Cigarette smoke, smog and auto exhaust can worsen exercise-induced asthma.

7. Get fit. The fitter you get, the less air you need for a given physical task, because your cardiorespiratory system grows more efficient, resulting in less strain on your bronchial tubes and less EIA.

8. Get a second opinion. If these tips don't take care of your EIA, see your doctor for instruction on how best to use an inhaler or a "spacer," or for a prescription for another type of bronchodilating drug.

Don't let EIA get you down. Keep working on it and, sooner or later, you'll breathe free.

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