Asthma affects around 25 million Americans, and over 250 million people worldwide. It’s safe to assume that it’s a fairly common problem!
If you suffer from the condition, you may already know that exercise can cause worse symptoms. Because of this, it can be hard to develop a consistent and effective running routine.
The good news is that it’s perfectly possible to run safely with just a bit of preparation and thoughtfulness.
Here are 10 tips for running with asthma. Follow these to help you start a consistent running routine, as well as to help you get through each run safely and easily.
What is Asthma?
Asthma is a common lung condition in which a person’s lungs become easily inflamed. This can cause the airways to narrow due to swelling, or can produce an excess of mucus.
Both of these occurrences make it difficult to breathe. Other symptoms can include coughing or chest pain. Depending on the circumstance, it could cause light wheezing or a full-blown asthma attack, which is life-threatening.
It’s important to note that asthma can be genetic, or it can happen as a result of allergies.
If you have asthma, it isn’t always “active”. You can go for a long time without experiencing any symptoms.
But when something irritates your lungs, it can quickly develop into a more serious situation. Flare-ups usually depend on an external factor causing lung irritation, which kicks off the inflammation.
Asthma can be a minor issue. In many cases, your symptoms could simply be a slight chest tightness, light wheezing, or a minor cough.
But it can also be a serious condition that requires medical intervention. This is why it’s so important to take steps to control your asthma, and to be prepared in the event that you have a bad flare-up.
How is Asthma Treated?
Typically, a person who has been diagnosed with asthma will carry an inhaler with them at all times. These inhalers are known as “quick-relief” medication and they’re designed to quickly and effectively control the symptoms of an asthma attack.
Inhalers come in two types: relievers and preventers.
Relievers (also called rescue inhalers) are used to quickly treat symptoms when they arise.
They contain medicine called bronchodilators. These dilate (widen) the airways (bronchi), which makes it easier to get enough breath in.
Preventer inhalers contain steroid medication. These work by stopping the lungs from becoming inflamed.
With the presence of steroid medicine, small things that may have triggered an asthma attack (like dust, cold air, etc) won’t cause a severe reaction, if any reaction at all.
Preventers are usually given to asthma sufferers who need to use their rescue inhaler three or more times a week.
You’ll use a preventer inhaler twice a day. It’s a chronic medication, unlike the rescue inhaler which is a treatment for acute asthma attacks.
It’s important to note that preventers don’t work as fast as rescue inhalers do. They take a week to two weeks to build-up to the optimal effectiveness.
What are Common Asthma Triggers?
Asthma sufferers can go for weeks or months without an attack. When it does flare up, there can be a variety of different causes.
Knowing the common triggers may help you to avoid them from the start, keeping your asthma under control.
Here are some of the most common ones:
Allergies are extremely common and affect everyone differently. Some people sneeze, others get red, itchy eyes. Some people’s lungs bear the brunt of allergy symptoms.
Things like the pollen count, dust in the air, and smoke can cause an allergic reaction. This is basically the body responding to something that it sees as a threat.
In people whose lungs are affected, the body sends reinforcements to the lungs to try to get rid of the allergen. It causes inflammation, which in turn leads to asthma symptoms.
Have you noticed that you only suffer from asthma in a particular season? Maybe only when certain flowers are in bloom, or only if you visit a specific place. This is likely allergy-induced asthma!
The best way to deal with this kind of asthma is to a) do your best to avoid the situation or place where it occurs, and because that’s not always possible, b) prepare yourself for allergies.
Carry antihistamines or take one if you know you’re going somewhere that could aggravate your allergies.
This is a different type of allergy. The body reacts in different ways to different stimulants, so there’s no real way to say how your body may respond to a particular food.
In many cases, the body is actually reacting to a specific additive in the food, rather than the food itself. Because of this, it can be hard to pinpoint the thing you’re really allergic to!
If you suspect this may be the cause of your asthma, you should keep a food/asthma diary for a few weeks or months. Tracking what you eat and when your asthma pops up might show some interesting overlaps.
You may suddenly realize that your asthma symptoms arrive after you’ve eaten something specific!
Asthma can be triggered by other physical conditions. Sinusitis is a big culprit. The congestion and inflammation of the nasal passages can put a strain on the lungs. In turn, this can lead to inflammation in the lungs, triggering asthma symptoms.
Heartburn is another thing that can lead to asthma. The stress on the chest can trigger an asthma attack.
It’s worth noting that non-physical conditions can also have an effect on the lungs. Stress, anxiety, and panic set off the “fight-or-flight” response, which causes physical changes in the body.
When you’re particularly anxious or upset, your heart rate speeds up, your respiratory rate increases, and adrenaline begins to flood your body in preparation to run or fight. This stress on the body (especially the lungs) can trigger an asthma attack.
Exercise-induced asthma is common. An increased breathing rate can put strain on the lungs, or cold air can aggravate them.
If you exercise outdoors, it’s possible that your asthma is caused by pollen or dust, instead of the physical effects that exercise has on the body.
Naturally, inhaling smoke directly into your lungs is a recipe for disaster when you’re an asthmatic! Smoke is a foreign body, which means your body is likely to treat it as an allergen.
If the body is used to smoking and doesn’t see it as an allergen, it can still aggravate the lungs. Smoke displaces air (oxygen molecules), which means that you’ll end up getting less O2 in your blood.
Being short of breath leads to a panic reaction in the body, which can trigger asthma symptoms.
Some medications can lead to asthmatic symptoms. Everyone reacts differently to medication, so it’s wise to double-check the potential side effects of any meds that you’re on.
Cold weather can aggravate the lungs. Breathing in cool air can irritate the lining of the lungs, causing coughing and other asthma symptoms.
Wind can also be problematic for asthmatics. It can stir up allergens like dust or pollen. Even if the day is warm and inviting, a light breeze is all it takes for dust to get into your lungs and set off an asthma attack.
Can Running Improve Asthma?
We’ve just mentioned how exercise can induce asthma, so you may be wondering how running can actually help. But it’s true – running can actually help to improve your asthma symptoms.
Running not only builds great leg muscle, but it’s an excellent cardiovascular exercise. If you run regularly, your lungs will begin to slowly strengthen as your aerobic fitness increases.
This can make them less prone to aggravation, and can also help them deal with irritation more easily.
Establishing a regular running routine will help to improve lung function, lung capacity, and oxygen consumption.
Tips for Running with Asthma
If you’re a runner whose routine is regularly interrupted by asthma attacks, or you want to start running to strengthen your lungs, here are our top tips for running with asthma.
1. Make Sure It Is Asthma
If you haven’t officially been diagnosed with asthma, we recommend going to your doc to get checked out. Several other conditions can present similarly to asthma, including vocal cord dysfunction (which is surprisingly common).
If you’re attempting to deal with asthma before knowing it’s actually asthma, you could be focusing on the wrong treatment. Make sure you really do have the condition before trying to treat it!
2. Talk to Your Doctor
Once you’ve got the diagnosis, we highly recommend discussing it with your doctor. Depending on the severity of the condition, your doc will recommend an appropriate treatment.
Mention to your doctor that you’re planning on running. They may be able to offer some good advice on how to keep your condition under control while building up strength in your lungs.
3. Reduce or Quit Smoking
Yes, we said it! If you’re a smoker who suffers from asthma, your best chance of being able to run efficiently and develop your lung strength and lung capacity is to… Stop smoking.
At the very least, you’ll need to drastically reduce the amount you’re smoking. Remember, that smoke in your lungs is an aggravation, which can easily trigger a bout of asthma.
Reducing or quitting smoking improves your stamina and lowers the chances of you suffering an asthma attack or becoming exhausted while running.
4. Take Your Inhaler
This is imperative! Even if you think your asthma is well under control, don’t neglect to take your inhaler with you when you run. It’s easy to stick into a running belt or pocket, and you’ll be extremely glad it’s there if you do need it.
Rather have it and not need it than need it and not have it! Your inhaler could save your life, so don’t forget it when you go out for a run.
5. Consider Wearing a Medical Alert Tag
Have you thought about what might happen if you suffer an asthma attack and lose consciousness while you’re out running?
It may be worth getting a medic alert bracelet stating that you’re an asthmatic. That way, if something does happen, anyone who finds you will be aware of the potential problem.
Medics on the scene will also be aware of your condition even if you aren’t conscious, which can assist them in providing the right treatment.
Leaping right into strenuous exercise can have a bad effect on your lungs. Take a bit of time to warm up, allowing your lungs to adjust.
Just 5 to 10 minutes of warming up before getting into your full exercise can help reduce the chance of an asthma attack occurring while you’re exercising.
7. Cover Up
Cold air can bring on an attack! If you’re running during cold weather, wrap up and protect your throat and lungs.
8. Protect Against Pollen
Pollen can be a lung-killer. If this is a problem for you, you may need to make some changes in order to avoid it.
You can check the pollen count daily to get an idea of if you’ll be able to run comfortably. It’s usually lowest in the early morning, so if you’re a later-in-the-day runner, a change of schedule might help.
If it’s too high even in the early morning, consider investing in a treadmill. That way, you can run in a controlled environment and significantly reduce your chance of suffering from an asthma attack while running.
It could also be a great idea to take up a cross-training activity that you can do on those days when the pollen count is too high for comfortable running.
Preparation is half the battle won. It’s a good idea to talk to your doctor about what steps you should take if you have an asthma attack while you’re running.
Making sure you know exactly what to do and you have the right stuff with you can not only reduce the stress of possibly having an attack, but it also means you have a better chance of staying calm and recovering faster if you do have an attack.
10. Run for You
If you run with someone else, make sure they know that you’re asthmatic and might need to rest or slow down here and there. Don’t try to keep up with someone else. Run for you.
This is essential! If you’re pushing yourself too hard, you run the risk of exhaustion, more frequent attacks, and even lung damage.
Take it easy, challenge yourself but don’t push your luck, and you’ll do great.