Exercise, Allergies, and Asthma

You’re feeling the seasonal or environmental assaults on your respiratory system, triggering an allergy or asthma attack. Do you push through your workout, or hold off on exercise until you feel better?

There’s no shame in pausing your routine for a day or two to rest, rehydrate, and recover. You’ll get back to your session with more gusto. But if symptoms are mild, and you want to press on, some preparation can help you manage the discomfort — and prevent more intense allergy or asthma “triggers” from happening, or becoming overwhelming.

Most allergy symptoms like watery, itchy eyes; stuffiness; or sneezing, can be treated with an over-the-counter or doctor-prescribed antihistamine and decongestant combo. If you exercise outside, pay attention to high seasonal pollen counts; if they’re enough to trigger severe reactions like shortness of breath, forego the great outdoors and take your workout inside, but somewhere that’s also free of dust and mold. (If you have asthma, always have your inhaler at the ready — but know when it’s time to call 9-1-1 in an emergency.)

Exercise-induced bronchoconstriction (EIB) is a condition that constricts air flow in your bronchial tubes when you exercise. It can happen when the dry or cold air you inhale through your mouth triggers a narrowing of the airway (less so in warm or humid temperatures). An asthma episode can also prompt this narrowing; so can a cold, high pollen counts or pollution levels, or irritants like smoke or fumes. Coughing, chest tightness, shortness of breath, or wheezing can follow. EIB tends to begin during exercise and get worse about five to 10 minutes after stopping. Sometimes a second wave of symptoms rolls in four to 12 hours after you quit your workout, taking up to 24 hours to completely cease.

Only your doctor can determine if you’ve got EIB and treat it with an action plan or medication, so you can enjoy exercise without a full-blown asthma attack. Always take your medication before exercising. Warm up for six to 10 minutes before vigorous exercise. (Start with walking, followed by gentle stretches without bouncing.) Avoid exposure to irritants. Check your breathing before, during, and after your workout. Opt for shorter bursts of more intense exercise. Choose activities like biking, walking, or swimming if you want to move more leisurely. Protect your nose and mouth in cold, dry weather, or choose warmer-weather activities.

With allergies or asthma, modify your workouts as needed, and you can still reap exercise’s many physical (and psychological) benefits, including improved overall cardiorespiratory fitness, endurance, and muscle strength — especially helpful with allergic or asthmatic symptoms. Listen to your body, plan ahead, and take precautions. Some of the best athletes in the world do just that!


By Lisa Miceli Feliciano

Sources include: www.aafa.org, www.clevelandclinic.org, www.webmd.com


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