Two common types of asthma are allergy-induced asthma (AIA), and exercise-induced asthma (EIA). Both types exhibit the same symptoms, but are triggered by different things. It is important to know which type of asthma your child has, so that the correct preventative measures can be taken to avoid flare-ups. This article will focus strictly on exercise-induced asthma.
Exercise-induced asthma is obviously named – it happens after exercise or strenuous activity! As with any form of asthma, the airways narrow and breathing becomes a struggle during flare-ups. People with EIA already have asthma symptoms, which worsen with exercise. Up to 20% of people without asthma develop exercise-induced bronchoconstriction (EIB), which is asthma symptoms that only appear when exercising.
EIA is usually a sign of poorly-controlled asthma, and generally can be resolved with 30 to 60 minutes of rest. Symptoms typically appear 5 to 20 minutes after activity, or around 15 minutes into extended exercise. Symptoms tend to peak 5 to 10 minutes after stopping physical activity.
The symptoms, including shortness of breath, coughing, and chest tightness, are believed to be caused by inhaling cold, dry air. Another reason symptoms may occur is because children tend to breathe mostly through their mouths while exercising, and the inhaled air does not have the chance to warm through the nose.
Taking medication before activity will greatly reduce the chance of having an attack. “The best advice is to take two puffs of albuterol before exercising or playing,” said Dr. Robert Strunk, professor of pediatrics at Washington University School of Medicine.
Inhaling a rapid-acting bronchodilator 10 minutes before exercising, or a long-acting bronchodilator 5 to 30 minutes beforehand, will help to curb symptoms. Cromolyn sodium and leukotriene modifiers can also be taken as preventative measures, but will not help during an attack.
Other strategies to reduce EIA symptoms are: warming up for 5 to 10 minutes beforehand, by stretching or walking; taking brief rests while exercising; remembering to cool down, to slow the change of the air temperature in the lungs; and avoiding high-endurance sports, such as cycling, distance running, soccer, and basketball.
“The key is to not stop exercising,” said Strunk, “If you’re unsure whether you have EIA or are just out of shape, get lung function testing and a trial of albuterol.”