Exercise Induced Asthma

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imageWhat is exercise induced asthma?

Asthma is a common condition that affects millions of people worldwide.  Common symptoms of asthma include coughing, wheezing, chest tightness, and shortness of breath.  Those whose symptoms are precipitated by exercise are often diagnosed with exercise induced asthma (EIA) or sports induced asthma.  Exercise induced asthma is caused by the lungs’ response to cold, dry air.  Physicians believe it is the quick change in temperature or moisture that irritates the muscles in the lining of the lungs, resulting in coughing and the sensation of chest tightening.  At times, EIA may present only with the symptom of coughing. EIA, especially if untreated, can limit one’s ability to participate in sports or vigorous exercise.

How is exercise induced asthma diagnosed?

In most cases, EIA can be diagnosed by history and most specifically by the timing of the symptoms.  Symptoms of cough or wheezing typically occur after the first 5-10 minutes of activity and usually improve when the individual stops exercising.  Sometimes the symptoms are only present when the exercising individual is exposed to very cold or dry air.  Pulmonary function tests are commonly normal at baseline, and it is sometimes necessary for a physician to perform pulmonary function tests before and after exercise to help make the diagnosis.  A trial of medication may be prescribed to ascertain whether it improves or eliminates the symptoms of EIA.

How is Exersise Induced Asthma treated?

Patients with EIA should always perform a slow warm up and cool down prior to exercise to help prevent bronchospasm.  Physicians may prescribe a short acting beta agonist medication such as albuterol which should be used 15-30 minutes before exercise.  This medication alone is quite effective in most individuals.  Other medications such as Cromolyn (Intal), Nedocromil (Tilade) and occasionally Singulair (Montelukast) have been shown to be helpful in preventing symptoms.  It should be noted that in patients with more persistent asthma, an important approach may be to treat the underlying inflammation caused by allergies.

With proper treatment, most patients with EIA should be able to participate in sports and healthy amounts of exercise.  Swimming is often recommended for asthmatics since they are exposed to warm moist air.  Other sports that asthmatics might tolerate include those that require short bursts of exercise such as baseball, football, and short track events.  Leisurely biking or walking are also recommended.

Many asthmatics have participated in sports at the highest levels of competition, including professional football players Jerome Bettis and Emmett Smith.  Professional basketball Dominque Wilkens and Juwan Howard have excelled in spite of their asthma.  Asthmatic athletes from the United States who have won Olympic medals include Nancy Hogshead (swimming), Greg Louganis (diving) and Jackie Joyner-Kersee (track and field).

Speak with an allergy or asthma specialist today if you or your child have symptoms of exercise induced asthma. Chances are excellent that with proper care, patients with exercise induced asthma can reach their physical and exercise potential.

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