Asthma experts preach we asthmatics should exercise no matter how severe our asthma is. This is true. Yet new research suggests exercise itself might actually cause some folks to develop asthma.
While it is believed most people are susceptible to developing asthma because they have the asthma gene (as I wrote about here), new evidence shows that some folks who do not have the gene may also develop asthma.
In fact, this study performed in the U.K. shows that as many as 50 percent of athletes develop asthma.
So, if exercise is supposed to be so healthy, how could it cause asthma?
Basically, athletes develop a “special kind of asthma” that occurs only when they exercise. Experts refer to this as exercise induced bronchospasm (EIB), as opposed to exercise induced asthma (EIA).
However, in the general population, EIA is the term that is most often used. The main difference, however, between EIA and EIB, is patients who suffer from EIA generally have other asthma triggers besides just exercise.
As I explained in my post Exercise Induced Asthma Troubles Many – even Olympians, those who exercise more than 20 hours per week injure their airways by breathing so much and so hard. Inflammation of the air passages of the lungs is the result, and this inflammation becomes chronic over time, resulting in EIB, or asthma.
Once one has EIB or asthma, rapidly breathing in air dries that inspired air, which ultimately dries the airway, which then releases hystamine that can increase inflammation of the air passages in your lungs. This then leads to bronchospasm.
Bronchospasm is when the muscles surrounding the air passages in your lungs (the bronchiole muscles) constrict and cause your air passages (bronchioles) to become narrowed. This, in essence, is asthma or bronchospasm in action.
This effect is exacerbated when the temperature is cold, as cold air tends to be drier than warm air. So one way to reduce the effects of EIB is to exercise in warm and dry weather. Another way to prevent it is to warm or humidify the air with an air conditioner or humidifier. (I explain the effects of humidity on asthma in this post).
Presently there is no cure for asthma, and no cure for EIB. However, symptoms of asthma can be prevented by controlling the chronic inflammation with asthma controler medications like Advair and Symbicort.
Some athletes find that two puffs of the Bronchodilator Ventolin prior to exercise is all they need. To find the medicine that works best is normally obtained by trial and error and working with your physician.
And this is why it is essential that EIB and asthma be diagnosed, because once diagnosed it can be treated. With proper treatment the “asthmatic” should be able to exercise as normal, as most athletes do.
However, despite asthma, and despite that 75 percent of asthmatics have EIA, and despite whether or not you have EIB, you should still exercise because the advantages of exercise are essential to a healthy life.
Just as a reminder, the following are some advantages of exercise:
- Increases your energy level
- Increases your endurance
- Increases your muscle strength (your heart is a muscle)
- Improves bone density
- Improves your ability to fight infections (improves your immune response)
- Helps you to relax
- Helps you to sleep better
- Makes your lungs work better and so you feel less short of breath
- Reduces risk factors for heart disease
- Improves blood pressure
- Reduces side effects of medicine
- Improves your mood
- Improves your self confidence
- Decreases your blood sugar levels
So while some who exercise may be susceptible to developing asthma, this is not an excuse not to exercise, and no excuse (in most cases) not to continue doing the things you enjoy doing most – which may include running, biking, or other high intensity sports.
You’ll just have to work with your doctor on getting the proper diagnosis andbe placed on the appropriate asthma treatment program that works best for you.
In this way you should be able to prevent asthma from stopping you from doing the sports you love to do the most.
A Registered Respiratory Therapist and asthmatic