People with asthma often have symptoms when they are physically active, especially if the air is cold and dry, or they are unfit. For some people, it is the only time they experience asthma symptoms.
Managing exercise-induced asthma (EIA) with correct breathing, medication and exercise preparation helps ensure people with asthma continue to have regular physical activity.
There are many world-class athletes taking part in all sporting codes who do not let their asthma get in the way of achieving their goals. They control their asthma – not the other way around.
If you experience any of the following symptoms during physical activity or your peak flow drops 20% after exercise, your asthma may be exercise induced. You should see your doctor.
There are two theories about the cause of exercise-induced asthma:
Don't let EIA slow you down. It is very important that people with EIA don't avoid physical activity.
Activities involving stopping and starting or a warm moist environment are less likely to cause EIA. For example, try swimming, walking, tramping, tennis, yoga, martial arts, T'ai chi, aerobics or team sports.
Stretching and a few minutes of brisk walking or skipping before exercise will:
Take one to two puffs of reliever medicine (usually blue-coloured) just before you start physical activity. If you need to take reliever medication more than once after your initial puff, then stop your activity session for that day. Using a spacer increases the effectiveness of metered dose inhalers (MDIs).
If you exercise often and you need a dose of reliever before and during your session, ask your doctor to reassess your preventer medication. You might also like to discuss with your doctor whether long-acting inhaler relievers (symptom controllers) may be an option for you, as they often help people with EIA. You need to be taking regular preventer medication to be prescribed these.
Other useful medicines to discuss with your doctor are Intal, Tilade or Vicrom – they are usually preventer medicines but can also be used before exercise.
Taking slow deep breaths through your nose with the right breathing pattern can help people with EIA (see below).
Your diaphragm is a large muscle separating your lungs from your abdomen. Your diaphragm can work hard and never get tired.
Some people breathe using their chest muscles instead of their diaphragm. This takes extra effort and can cause fatigue and tension.
Test yourself to see whether you breathe correctly through your diaphragm (diaphragmatic breathing):
If you are a chest-breather, practice diaphragmatic breathing for a few moments several times a day. Soon, diaphragmatic breathing will be automatic.
It is important to relax and let the air flow out of your lungs slowly and freely. Take a moment to remind yourself how good it feels:
Practice relaxing while you breathe out, and it will become automatic.
Most people breathe faster when they are tense or anxious. Their breathing becomes short and shallow. This type of breathing is both inefficient and tiring, and it can make you feel uptight or frightened.
Slow rhythmic breathing can help calm you. Practice this exercise several times a day:
We all know that physical activity is good for us. This is particularly the case for people with asthma; it improves lung capacity, blood flow, and has an overall calming effect.
Active people usually find they have fewer asthma symptoms and better control over their asthma. Sport and Recreation New Zealand (SPARC) recommends just 30 minutes of brisk walking on most days of the week. This can be in 10-minute bites if squeezing in 30 minutes a day is difficult.
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