Asthma can affect many parts of a person's life, but exercise doesn't have to be one of them. Here are some commonly held misconceptions about what it means to exercise with asthma.
Myth: Everyone with asthma experiences exercise-induced asthma.
Fact: Although exercise is one trigger for asthma, which is called Exercise-Induced Asthma (EIA), not everyone with asthma necessarily experiences asthma during exercise. Some asthma is triggered by allergens, such as pollen, animal dander, dust, mold and cockroaches. Other types of asthma can be triggered by environmental irritants, such as cigarette smoke, while other people might react to certain medications, sulfites in foods or viral upper respiratory infections, such as the common cold.
If you have EIA, it means the tubes that bring air into and out of your lungs narrow during exercise, which causes symptoms of asthma. Symptoms will occur within five to 20 minutes into exercise, and can include wheezing, chest tightness, cough, shortness of breath and sometimes chest pain.
[SLIDESHOW: 10 Signs of Exercise-Induced Asthma]
Myth: Asthmatics should not exercise because it will cause an asthma attack.
Fact: Maintaining a healthy diet and weight are important factors to controlling your asthma. So it’s important to maintain a healthy lifestyle. People with asthma can and should exercise; they just need to make sure their asthma is well-controlled through medication. This means taking a quick-relief inhaler shortly before physical activity to prevent symptoms while working out.
Also, taking a long-term medication to help control inflammation can prevent asthma symptoms from occurring during exercise. If a person is experiencing frequent and severe symptoms of asthma while exercising, it could be a sign that the asthma is poorly controlled. It’s best to talk to your doctor about which medications you should increase, or if there are other options right for you, such as leukotriene modifiers.
Myth: It’s better for asthmatics to work out in hot, humid air than cold air.
Fact: Both dry, cold air and hot, humid air are asthma triggers. People with EIA are very sensitive to low temperatures and dry air. Normally, air is warmed and humidified by the nose, but during intense exercise, people tend to breathe through their mouths. This causes cold, dry air to reach the airways and lungs, which triggers asthma.
A study from summer 2012 also looked at why hot, humid air also triggers asthma. Using a particular medication that prevents airway muscle contraction and increases airflow to the lungs, scientists found that hot, humid air causes asthma by activating sensory nerves in the airways, which are very sensitive to increases in temperature. They also found that people with mild asthma also experienced coughing when exposed to hot, humid air.
[SLIDESHOW: Why Humidity and Cold Air Trigger Asthma]
Myth: Being obese puts you at increased risk of dying from an asthma attack.
Fact: Many people assume that people who are clinically obese have it worse when it comes to all health issues. However, a recent study looked at mortality rates and asthma exacerbations for obese and non-obese people with asthma. It found that although obese people are more likely to have an asthma exacerbation, non-obese people are more likely to have near-fatal exacerbations.
Similarly, they looked at obese patients and non-obese patients with septic shock, and found that the obese patients were more likely to survive than non-obese patients. Researchers hypothesized that obesity blunts the pro-inflammatory cytokine response in our bodies.
Myth: Exercise that requires ongoing exertion is better for asthmatics than short bursts of energy.
Fact: Activities that require long periods of exertion, such as distance running, basketball, soccer or field hockey can be more difficult for people with asthma. It’s better to participate in either leisurely bike rides or hikes, or do activities that require short bursts of energy, such as baseball, football or short-term track and field. Cold weather sports, such as skiing and ice hockey can also present problems due to the cold, dry air associated with those activities.
n.p. (2012). “Asthma and Exercise: Tips to Remember.” Allergy Asthma & Immunology. Retrieved from http://www.aaaai.org/conditions-and-treatments/library/asthma-library/asthma-and-exercise.aspx
n.p. (2012, June 15). “How is Asthma Treated and Controlled?” National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. Retrieved from http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/asthma/treatment.html
Nationwide Children's Hospital (2012, June 6). Why hot, humid air triggers symptoms in patients with mild asthma. ScienceDaily. Retrieved from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/06/120606164934.htm
n.p. (2012, October 24). "Extra Weight Linked To Better Outcomes For Septic Shock, Asthma Exacerbation." Medical News Today. Retrieved from http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/releases/251849.php.