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Exercise-Induced Asthma

Exercise-Induced Asthma Overview

Asthma is a chronic inflammation of the breathing passages (bronchi) of the lungs. Asthma is characterized by sudden attacks or periods of bothersome or severe symptoms separated by periods of mild symptoms, or no symptoms at all. The inflammatory reaction of asthma is triggered by external factors or specific situations. When a person with asthma is exposed to one of his or her triggers, the inflammation worsens and symptoms begin.

  • The list of possible triggers of asthma is lengthy and varied.
  • Each individual with asthma has his or her own specific trigger or set of triggers.
  • These triggers generally are related to the way we breathe or the condition of the atmosphere we breathe in.
  • Triggers include contaminants in the air, such as smoke, pollution, vapors, dust, or other particles; respiratory infections, such as colds and flu (viruses); allergens in the air, such as molds, animal dander, and pollen; extremes of temperature or humidity; and emotional stress.

Exercise is a common trigger of asthma attacks.

  • Exercise can even induce an asthma attack in people who have no other triggers and do not experience asthma under any other circumstances.
  • People with exercise-induced asthma are believed to be more sensitive to changes in the temperature and humidity of the air.
  • When you are at rest, you breathe through your nose, which serves to warm, humidify, and cleanse the air you inhale to make it more like the air in the lungs.
  • When you are exercising, you breathe through your mouth, and the air that hits your lungs is colder and drier. The contrast between the warm air in the lungs and the cold inhaled air or the dry inhaled air and moist air in the lungs, can trigger an attack.

Once the attack is triggered, the airways begin to swell (bronchospasm) and secrete large amounts of mucus.

  • The swelling and extra mucus partially block or obstruct the airways. This makes it more difficult to push air out of your lungs (exhale).
  • When asthma is left untreated and the inflammation persists, permanent narrowing of the airways can occur. If this happens, this chronic asthma can also be referred to as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), like emphysema and chronic bronchitis.

For some forms of asthma, it is important that chronic maintenance medication are used to prevent the development of COPD. Asthma cannot be cured, but it can be controlled by medication. Fortunately, in those with only exercise-induced asthma (EIA), maintenance therapy is often not required and medication can simply be taken before exercise.

  • With appropriate treatment, almost everyone with EIA can enjoy the mental and physical benefits of regular exercise.
  • The large number of elite athletes who have asthma attests to the effectiveness of asthma medication.
  • Whether you walk around your neighborhood or run marathons, asthma doesn't need to stop you from reaching your exercise goals.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 6/2/2014

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