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Questions and Answers About Exercise Induced Asthma

Exercise Induced Asthma affects up to 20% of highly competitive athletes, including many Olympic athletes, and it affects 90% all of asthmatics, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI).

Below Clifford Bassett, MD, Fellow of the AAAAI and member of the AAAAI's Public Education Committee, answers some common questions about exercise-induced asthma.

What is Exercise Induced Asthma?
Patients with Exercise Induced Asthma have airways that are overly sensitive to sudden changes in temperature and humidity, especially when breathing colder, drier air. They may feel some difficulty breathing within 5-20 minutes after exercise, due to narrow airways making it tough for air to move out of the lungs.

What are the symptoms of Exercise Induced Asthma?
Symptoms include coughing, wheezing, tight chest, and prolonged and unexpected shortness of breath after about 6-8 minutes of exercise. These symptoms are often worse in cold, dry air. Warm and humid air may decrease the symptoms. Unfortunately pollens and molds are present at the times of the year when the air is warm and humid and these substances in the air may also trigger attacks of asthma.

How is Exercise Induced Asthma treated?
It can be treated effectively by following this basic treatment checklist:

  • Use a short-acting inhaler 15 minutes prior to exercise. This will help ease asthma exacerbations, and lasts between 4 and 6 hours
  • Warm-up for 6-10 minutes before beginning a full exercise program
  • Drink plenty of fluids
  • Stop exercising if symptoms arise
  • Cool down at the end of your exercise

If I have Exercise Induced Asthma, can I still participate in sports?
Although the type and duration of recommended activity varies with each individual, some activities are better for people with Exercise Induced Asthma, such as:

  • Swimming – sport of choice for asthmatics because of its many positive factors: a warm, humid atmosphere, year-round availability and toning of upper body muscles
  • Walking
  • Leisure biking
  • Hiking
  • Free downhill skiing
  • Golfing
  • Baseball

Any other advice?
Exercise is beneficial to both physical health and emotional well-being. Even if you are not striving for an Olympic medal, almost all people with Exercise Induced Asthma should be able to exercise to their full ability with appropriate diagnosis and treatment.

If you have been experiencing symptoms of Exercise Induced Asthma, it is important to see an allergist/immunologist. An allergist/immunologist will provide you with a personalized management plan and guidelines to follow to allow you to exercise again comfortably.

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