Exercise induced asthma

What is exercise-induced asthma?

Exercise-induced asthma (also called sports-induced asthma) is very common and means that you will experience problems with your asthma during physical exertion. When you exercise or in other ways exert yourself physically you will breathe faster and through your mouth. This implies that the air reaching the mucous membranes of the respiratory tract is dryer and colder than it would have been inhaled through your nose. The airways will then become irritated and may contract. If you are sensitive you may get asthma symptoms even from mild physical exertion. Children with asthma may, for example, get sports-induced asthma as they play. If you suffer from exercise-induced asthma, it does not mean that you are completely well when you are not physically active. The underlying inflammation of the airways is always there, even if the problems are triggered by exercise.

It can be difficult to separate exercised-induced asthma from poor physical fitness. Talk to a doctor or a nurse who specialises in asthma if you are not sure, in order for your asthma to be examined properly and for you to get the right treatment.

How to relieve exercise-induced asthma

Many asthmatic people are afraid of exercising, but having good fitness is especially important when you have asthma. If you work out regularly your exercise-induced asthma may actually improve. Exercising helps the lung function to stabilise, increases your capacity for absorbing oxygen and reduces asthma symptoms. When the muscles around your thorax and lungs grow stronger it will be easier for you to get rid of mucus by coughing.

Some work outs require more effort than others, so try different things until you find something that suits you. Walking, swimming, dancing, sports with balls and interval training usually work well, while long-distance running and skiing may be more problematic. The only sport people with asthma are advised to avoid completely is diving. If you take your asthma medication regularly there is no reason for you to not exercise to the same extent as a healthy person. There are even many athletes who have asthma and who are competing on an elite level.

Guidelines for exercise-induced asthma and training:

  • Take an extra dose of your fast-acting bronchodilating medicine, 10-15 minutes before you work out
  • Warm up softly within 10-15 minutes, this will increase your pulse gradually
  • Adjust your exercise to your daily shape.  
  • Work out in intervals with short resting periods
  • Try to breathe through your nose for as long as you can. In that way the air will be heated before reaching your lungs
  • Use a heat exchanger, either in shape of a breathing mask or as a hood pulled down to cover your mouth and nose if you exercise in cold weather
  • End your workout by slowing down within 5-10 minutes
  • Never work out with a cold. This can make your asthma deteriorate in the long run
  • If you are allergic to pollen it is best to exercise indoors during days with a lot of pollen in the air. Sometimes pollen even affects the airways of people who don’t have allergies

If you, in spite of following this advice, experience problems with your asthma, it may be best to rest for a while before continuing. For work out sessions that are longer than two hours you may need to take one more dose of the bronchodilating medicine.



UK/GEN/15/0055a          Date of Preparation: December 2015 

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