Exercise-induced asthma is a condition that affects thousands and thousands of runners—and many are unaware they suffer from it. Such former great runners as Alberto Salazar, Doug Padilla, Keith Brantley, Mary Slaney and Jackie Joyner Kersee have all suffered from it and all found remedies. Exercise-induced asthma is a common condition which is easily treatable if you know the warning signs.
Typically, exercise-induced asthma (EIA) kicks in about five to 10 minutes after you begin running or when your heart rate reaches about 80 percent of its max. The problem is the typical symptoms—chest pains, dizziness, shortness of breath, wheezing—are often confused with some other or simply being out of shape. Often runners, who are huffing and puffing after a few minutes of running, assume they are just winded, due to lack of conditioning.
Obviously, sometimes that’s the case but not when there’s intense wheezing and hard-to-control coughing going on. That can mean you suffer from EIA.
This occurs when the breathing (or bronchial) tubes in your lungs narrow. As you run, the lining of the breathing tubes swell, but the muscles surrounding the tubes constrict and make it hard to force air out of your lungs. When this happens, the exhaled air through the narrow tubes makes the wheezing sound.
Running is particularly tough in the cold, dry air we get in Texas during the winter because there isn’t adequate warmth and moisture for the bronchial tubes. It’s not just running which can trigger this. Cycling, skiing, skating and other aerobic exercises can cause EIA.
Years ago, it was thought that exercise-induced asthma was mainly a problem for children, rather than adults. But research showed that adults weren’t exercising as much as children. Now that they are, these asthma attacks have become more and more prevalent in adults because fast, heavy breathing (such as running) provokes it.
Certainly running (or other forms of exercise) aren’t the only ways to trigger an asthma attack. If you’re asthmatic, other conditions that can trigger an attack include cold, dry air, smoke, emotional stress, laughing, certain types of asthma inhalers and some of the chemicals used to preserve wine and control indigestion.
Even though running can trigger EIA, running doesn’t need to be avoided. On the contrary. Running is often prescribed for children and adults with EIA because it strengthens the breathing muscles, making it easier to breathe. One of the dangers of an asthma attack is fatigue because of the effort it takes to breathe. Stronger muscles tire less easily so most doctors believe asthmatics should exercise as much as possible.
If you have been diagnosed with EIA, you can still run. In fact, you should. But you must plan differently than merely stepping out the door for a run.
Here are some tips for running with EIA:
1. Warm up. A proper warm up is always important, but especially so for an asthmatic. If that’s you, jog easily for one or two 5-minute periods before your primary workout. A brief warm up will dilate the breathing tubes and allow you to run without inducing any EIA symptoms.
2. Use an inhaler. Approximately, 20 minutes before your run, take at least two puffs of your inhaler to open up the breathing tubes.
3. Caffeine. Believe it or not, a cup of coffee or tea before running can also dilate the breathing tubes.
4. Run when it’s warm. Cold air hurts; warm air is better.
5. Breathe through your nose. Breathing through your mouth means you’ll be inhaling cooler air. If you can’t breathe through your nose enough, wear a scarf or ski mask over your nose and mouth to warm the air. If it’s exceptionally cold, run on an indoor treadmill.
6. Run at the best time of day for you. Some asthmatics find their breathing tubes are more congested in the morning than later in the day. Others find it worse in the afternoon and early evening when pollen counts are higher. Find out what works best for you.
7. Stay away from busy roads. Exhaust from autos can worsen EIA so try to run in parks or on trails as far away as possible from heavy traffic.