Exercise is a very powerful trigger for many asthmatics. This does not happen by coincidence – there is a set pattern involved. First consider the normal breathing process. Air enters the body through the nose, which acts to filter out some of the airborne particles, and to warm and humidify the air. This conditioned air is then delivered to the lungs. Strenuous exercise will cause a person to increase his/her respiratory rate, bypass the nose, and breathe in through the mouth. As a result, cold unconditioned air goes directly to the lungs in large volume.
When a person first begins to exercise he/she may feel an exhilarated effect and his/her airways will actually expand. It is only after a prolonged period of exercise that bronchospasm will begin. This will happen typically after he/she has worked at 85% of his/her optimum heart rate for at least six minutes.
There are a number of things that can be done to lessen the impact of exercise-induced asthma. Sports that require sustained activity such as long-distance running or aerobic dancing cause the most problem. You might want to select sports that utilize brief exercise intervals with periodic rests, such as baseball, football, volleyball, golf or weightlifting.
You might want to try a sport that is conducted in a warm moist environment rather than a cold dry one like ice-skating and skiing. Swimming is an ideal sport because the swimmer breathes humidified air. This is not to say that swimming is the only acceptable exercise for someone who has exercise-induced asthma. With proper preparation, any form of exercise should be possible.
Cold air does not contain as much moisture as warm air. If you enjoy outdoor sports in cold weather try wearing a facemask or scarf over the mouth and nose to create a reservoir of warm humidified air.
Before beginning strenuous exercise, warm-up slowly. This will help to prepare the body and may bypass the asthma symptoms that generally occur during the first 15 minutes of exercise.
Your doctor may instruct you to premedicate before exercise. An inhaled bronchodilating medication or cromolyn used 20 minutes before exercise will often block the asthma symptoms. Follow your doctor's instructions concerning premedication and the backup plan if the regimen fails.
Typically, bronchospasm induced by exercise is short-lived. Most episodes are fairly mild and if left untreated will reverse themselves within approximately 30 minutes to an hour after stopping the activity. This is not to say that if you have exercise-induced asthma you should just ignore it and it will go away. Learn to recognize and treat your condition properly and enable yourself to enjoy participating in physical activity to the best of your ability! Exercise is important for everyone, especially the person who has asthma.