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Understanding Exercise-Induced Asthma in 5 Minutes

Updated on April 19, 2019
mtghozali profile image

A licensed pharmacist who is also a lecturer and researcher at School of Pharmacy, Universitas Muhammadiyah Yogyakarta, Indonesia.

Exercise Induced Asthma - An Overview

According to WHO, asthma can be defined as a heterogenous disease which can be characterized by recurring episodes of wheezing and breathlessness. These attacks can vary from one person to another in terms of severity and frequency.

The percentage of people getting affected by asthma is increasing day by day and about 8.3% of children and 8.3% of adults have asthma.

Asthma and allergy foundation of America suggests that more than 26 million people suffer from asthma in America only. Although deaths due to asthma are very rare but still 10 people die from asthma every day in America.

According to an article published in the New England Journal of Medicine, exercise-induced asthma cannot be considered an isolated condition or a disease. However, vigorous physical exertion or exercise can act as a stimulus to trigger an asthmatic attack.

This happens due to limited air flowing into the lungs and insufficiency to meet the oxygen needs of the body.

Exercise-induced asthma describes the transient narrowing of the airways following vigorous exercise.
Exercise-induced asthma describes the transient narrowing of the airways following vigorous exercise. | Source

How an Asthmatic Attack Occurs?

Asthma is a chronic disease with multiple triggering factors. An asthmatic attack occurs when the symptoms worsen due to any possible trigger.

You might think that you are totally compliant with what has been prescribed to you and yet these attacks might still occur due to exposure to any trigger.

Let’s break it down into simpler level of biology to understand how they actually occur...

"You inhale in air; it passes down from your nostrils into your windpipe and further down. There are small tubes in our lungs called bronchi which further divides into much narrower tubes called bronchioles.

As we keep going down the tubes keep on reducing in diameter. These tubes allow the air we inhale to reach our lungs and supply oxygen."

During an asthmatic attack these tubes becomes inflamed making the nerve endings very sensitive. Swelling does not allow the air to flow in easily and on the other hand increased sensitivity makes the lining extremely irritable. This phenomenon results in an asthmatic attack.

Symptoms of Exercise Induced Asthma

Symptoms of exercise induced asthma are similar to those of general asthma. The only difference is that asthmatic attack starts during or after the exercise session in people suffering from exercise induced asthma.

Usually exercise induced asthmatic attacks start after 5 to 20 minutes of vigorous physical activity or after 5 to 10 minutes of ceasing the activity.

Following are some of the symptoms of exercise induced asthma.

  • Feeling of tightness in chest.
  • Coughing and wheezing.
  • Breathlessness or shortness of breath.
  • Unusual fatigue.

All the symptoms above commonly happen after or during exercise.

Triggers of Exercise Induced Asthma

Although the history of this disease can be tracked back to hundreds of years but rapid increase in number of patients suggests that we dig deeper into the causes.

Genetic factors can make a person suffer from exercise induced asthma, however, environmental factors trigger the attack. These triggering factors as stated by Asthma and allergy foundation of America can vary from country to country.

Here are some of the common triggers of exercise induced asthma:

  • Exposure to cold and dry air during exercising.
  • Breathing through your mouth while you are working out because it makes the air you inhale colder and drier.
  • Exposure to allergens such as pollen, spores, pet dander, paint fumes, perfumes, certain chemical compounds, etc.
  • High levels of pollution.
  • Working with wood, or baking, farming and painting can also trigger an episode.
  • Dampness or mold especially in low to middle income countries (LMICs).

Exposure to allergens, such as pet dander, is one of asthma triggers.
Exposure to allergens, such as pet dander, is one of asthma triggers. | Source

Diagnosis of Exercise Induced Asthma

In order to diagnose that whether you have asthma or not, your doctor can:

Ask you about your medical history (wheezing, breathlessness, coughing, tightness in the chest and any infections such as flu and cold). It also includes the information about the recurring episodes and severity of asthma attacks.

Examine you physically (checking your upper respiratory tract and the skin for any allergies etc.).

Ask you get some tests taken to measure the functionality of your lungs:

  • Spirometry – a test done by using a small machine which measures how much air out can breathe out in one force breath.
  • PEF – a test again done using a small machine to measure maximum speed with which a person breathes out air
  • Bronchoprovocation challenge testing or other allergy tests.

Treatment of Exercise Induced Asthma

Can exercise-induced asthma be treated? The answer is yes, however, 100% cure is not possible because of the genetic factors responsible for the condition.

Usually asthma is treated with two types of medications—those which provide quick relief and the other ones are used to manage the symptoms of asthma for long term.

The difference is long term medicines does not help you control an already occurring asthma attack. But they definitely help you control the number of attacks and their severity.

Usually doctors prescribe either bronchodilators or inhaled corticosteroids (beclomethasone and budesonide) or a combination of both. The most common medication to be taken in order to control exercise induced asthma is albuterol, which is a bronchodilator.

Ipratropium (Ipratropium bromide) is another powerful asthma medicine best suited for inhaling before exercise to avoid any asthmatic attacks

However, you should keep in mind that… You can’t have someone else’s medicine just because they have asthma too. You should talk to your doctor before using your short-term medication for long term management of asthma.

Ipratropium is another drug best suited for inhaling before exercise.
Ipratropium is another drug best suited for inhaling before exercise. | Source

You can easily control your exercise induced asthma by ensuring following things…

  • You are complying to what has been prescribed to you.
  • You are avoiding at all times all such things that might trigger an attack.
  • Before doing your routine exercises make sure that you do necessary warming up and also the cooling down after the exercise session.
  • If you are allergic to pollen or you have any other seasonal allergies make sure to limit your exercises.
  • Infections like sinusitis and flu etc. tends to trigger an asthmatic attack in asthma patients. It is best that you restrict your physical activity while you are sick.
  • Use your inhalers and take your medicines prior to exercising for long duration.

Home Remedies for Exercise Induced Asthma

Home Remedies
Fruits and vegetables
Blueberries, strawberries, grapes, kale, plums, oranges, and more.
Healty foods
Eggs, meats, and evening primrose oil.

NOTE: Always consult your doctor/specialist or other health professionals before modifying your diet, using any new product, drug, supplement, or doing any new exercises.

Following are some of the things you can add to your daily life…

Fruits and vegetables can help you fight the oxidative stress caused by exercising. This is because they are rich in antioxidants. These include blueberries, strawberries, grapes, kale, plums, oranges and more. Taking antioxidant rich foods at least 30 mins before starting your session.

Eating foods such as eggs and meats can increase the level of arachidonic acid in our body. This acid is responsible for causing the inflammation. Omega-3 fatty acids (fish), evening primrose oil and other essential nutrients can help you control the level of arachidonic acid in your body.

Butterbur is a shrub rich which is found to be helpful in controlling inflammation and smooth muscle spasms. It has active constituents such as petasin and isopetasin. Bromelain from the extracts of pineapple is also found to be effective in reducing inflammation of airways.

NOTE: Be sure to pick butterbur supplements labelled with Pyrrolizidine Alkaloids (PA-Free). Consult with your certified herbalist for more details.

This content is for informational purposes only and does not substitute for formal and individualized diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed medical professional. Do not stop or alter your current course of treatment. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2019 MT Ghozali


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