Running With Asthma

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As a runner, you’re no stranger to a variety of discomforts and difficulties.  And, while sometimes success as an athlete really is an issue of mind over matter, there are many conditions and concerns which require more serious attention. Asthma, for instance, is not something that a runner would just want to ignore and power through. But… why not? What is asthma and would should you know about it specifically when it comes to running?

What’s Going On?

Technically speaking, asthma is a allergic condition, though it’s a very different from what most people think of when they talk about allergies. Unlike the swelling, scratching and sneezing associated with common allergies, asthma causing the your airways to narrow and produce excess mucous. As a result, asthma generally leads to coughing, wheezing and a general shortness of breath.

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For most people, though, these symptoms are generally relatively minor. In other cases, however, the consequences of asthma can be extremely limiting, even making it difficult for you to meet the demands of your daily life. If you happen to be a runner (which you most likely are) any difficulty breathing is more than just a nuisance, regardless of how severe it seems to someone else.

Symptoms and Specifications

As mentioned, asthma is generally associated with:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest tightness or pain
  • A wheezing or whistling sound
  • The above symptoms become worse during a respiratory virus, like the flu or cold
  • Sleep issues caused by coughing, wheezing or shortness of breath

Precisely how these symptoms manifest themselves, though, can vary pretty significantly from one person to another. There are also specific types of asthma that may worsen under certain situations. Of particular interest to the runner, however, is the obviously-named “exercise-induced asthma.” Which is – you guessed it! – induced by exercise. Asthma symptoms can also be triggered by environmental pollutants and allergen likes pollen or mold spores.

Causes, Cures and Treatment

Unfortunately, the exact causes of asthma are not fully understood. There is some evidence to suggest that both genetic and environmental factors may be involved. Prolonged exposure to smoke and certain chemicals seems to increase an individual’s risk of developing asthma. Being obese may also increase someone’s chances of dealing with asthma.

Officially, asthma is classified as a chronic condition – meaning that it cannot be cured. That does not mean, however, that all is lost. Asthma can be very well controlled through both medical and non-medical strategies. Even for runners and other athletes, minor adjustments in your routine can help to prevent asthma symptoms from getting in the way of your workouts.

The exact course of treatment, though, will depend entirely on your individual situation. In most cases, your doctor will likely prescribe both a long-term control medication and a rescue inhaler. While the former is taken on a daily basis and helps to reduce your overall risk of suffering from an asthma attack, the later is meant to be taken during an asthma attack to provide rapid relief. Your doctor may instruct you to take your rescue inhaler before your run as a preventative measure.

Breathing exercises may also help to increase the strength and efficiency of the many muscles and airways involved in the surprisingly complex act of taking a breath. By improving the overall effectiveness of this activity, you can reduce the likelihood of facing asthma symptoms during your runs and other activities. There are also certain herbs and alternative therapies that have been explored for their usefulness in treating asthma. The science surrounding these therapies is mixed, though.

Practical Steps for Prevention

In addition to the use of medications and exercises to prevent the occurrence of asthmatic symptoms and minimize their severity, there are some specific strategies you can use during your runs that could make a big difference. For exercise-induced asthma, the primary factor to consider is your environment. Specifically, running in cold and dry air can be especially problematic for asthmatic athletes.

But, short of moving your run in to a climate-controlled environment, how can you possibly have any influence over the quality of the air? By tying a bandana around your face. Granted, it might be a little awkward – and possibly even make you feel a tad ridiculous – this simple strategy could have a powerful influence over your ability to breathe while out on your runs.

Similarly, do your best to avoid running outside when pollen or pollution levels are high in your area. Since these allergens can trigger your asthma, they could substantially reduce your performance. Additionally, do not try to counteract all of those allergens by preemptively throwing back a few antihistamines. Not only does some research suggest that these medications could interfere with your recovery systems but many antihistamines can cause drowsiness and other unwanted side effects that would by counterproductive or even dangerous when you hit the trail.

Finally, the way that you structure your runs may help you to have an effective workout and also decrease the severity of your asthma. While the standard, steady-state run puts constant levels of stress on your lungs, interval training does not. By switching to interval runs, then, you build short recovery periods right into your workouts, during which your lungs can rest.

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