Exercise is an important part of a healthy lifestyle.
However, for some people, physical activity and sports can trigger asthma symptoms, such as:
- chest tightness
- shortness of breath
In turn, these symptoms make it difficult, and potentially dangerous, to exercise.
Taking proper precautions and developing a symptom management strategy can help you enjoy the benefits of exercise while minimizing potential discomfort.
Here’s what you need to know about exercising safely if you have allergic asthma.
Asthma affects more than 25 million people in the United States. The most common type is allergic asthma, which is triggered or worsened by certain allergens, including:
- dust mites
Whether you’re working out or simply engaging in everyday activities, avoiding these common allergens can help you keep allergic asthma symptoms at bay.
Exercise itself can also trigger asthma symptoms. This is known as exercise-induced asthma.
The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America estimates that up to 90 percent of people who are diagnosed with asthma experience exercise-induced asthma while engaging in physical activity.
Asthma symptoms may begin while you’re exercising and often worsen 5 to 10 minutes after ending your workout.
Depending on the severity of symptoms, you may need to take your rescue inhaler. In some people, symptoms may resolve on their own within a half hour.
However, even if symptoms go away without medication, in some cases people may get a second wave of asthma symptoms anywhere from 4 to 12 hours later.
These late-phase symptoms usually aren’t severe and may resolve within a day. If symptoms are severe, don’t hesitate to take your rescue medication.
If you think you may have exercise-induced asthma, talk to your doctor about getting tested to confirm a diagnosis and develop a plan to manage your symptoms.
Your doctor can check your breathing before, during, and after physical activity to see how your lungs are functioning and determine if exercise is triggering your asthma.
If you’re diagnosed with exercise-induced asthma, you should also work with your physician to create an Asthma Action Plan. That way, you’ll know what to do in an emergency and have a list of medications on hand.
Engaging in regular physical activity is important for your health, even if you have allergic asthma. Here are some tips to help you exercise and engage in sports more safely:
- Take medication before your workout. Some medications can be taken preventively to help you avoid symptoms of exercise-induced asthma. Your doctor may recommend taking a short-acting beta-agonist (or bronchodilator) 10 to 15 minutes before a workout or a long-acting bronchodilator up to an hour before exercise. In very rare cases, your doctor might recommend mast cell stabilizers.
- Practice caution in winter months. Cold environments can provoke symptoms of allergic asthma. If you must exercise outdoors in the winter, wearing a mask or scarf may help you prevent symptoms.
- Be mindful of summer months, too. Hot, humid environments are a breeding ground for allergens like mold and dust mites. If you must exercise outdoors in the summer, schedule workouts in the mornings or evenings, when there are generally lower temperatures and humidity levels.
- Choose indoor activities. Avoid exercising outdoors on high-allergen and high-pollution days, which can increase your chances of triggering allergic asthma.
- Practice less triggering sports. Choose activities that involve “short bursts of exercise,” such as volleyball, baseball, gymnastics, walking, and leisurely bike rides. These activities may be less likely to trigger symptoms than those that require long periods of constant activity, like soccer, running, or basketball.
- Store your gear indoors. Exercise equipment such as bikes, jump ropes, weights, and mats, may collect pollen or get moldy if left outdoors. Store your gear inside to avoid unnecessary exposure to asthma-inducing allergens.
- Always warm up and cool down. Stretching before and after your workout may lessen exercise-related symptoms of asthma. Schedule time for a warm-up before you get going and a cool-down after each activity.
- Keep your inhaler with you. If your doctor prescribed an inhaler to help you manage exercise-induced asthma, make sure you have it on hand during your workout. Using it can help reverse certain symptoms if they do occur.
Some mild symptoms of allergic asthma that occur while exercising may resolve on their own. More severe reactions could require medical attention. Seek emergency medical help right away if you experience:
- an asthma attack that doesn’t improve after using your rescue inhaler
- rapidly increasing shortness of breath
- wheezing that makes breathing a challenge
- chest muscles that strain in an effort to breathe
- an inability to say more than a few words at a time due to shortness of breath
Asthma symptoms shouldn’t prevent you from having an active lifestyle. Avoiding your triggers, taking prescribed medication, and choosing the right kind of activity can help you exercise safely and prevent symptoms.
Stay aware of how your body is responding to physical activity and always have an asthma action plan in place in case you need it.