Stanley Wen, MD, is a family physician on staff at Banner Estrella Medical Center. He can be reached at (623) 535-3857.
Question: Is exercise-induced asthma a real medical diagnosis or just another way of saying someone is out of shape?
Answer: There is a difference between being winded and having exercise-induced asthma. Breathing heavily is simply our attempt to ventilate the lungs so that carbon dioxide produced by exercise can be removed from the body and more oxygen can be delivered to the muscles.
People with exercise-induced asthma have more difficulty breathing because their bronchial tubes can constrict, limiting the flow of air in and out of the lungs. One way that exercise asthma differs from exercise fatigue is that the symptoms of wheezing, chest tightness and shortness of breath may persist for 15 minutes after stopping to rest. Normal exercise fatigue resolves quickly at rest.
Asthma, of any kind, is a respiratory condition that is triggered by some type of stimulus. Triggers, such as allergens, pollutants, smoke, respiratory infections, changes in temperature or humidity, and exercise can make breathing unusually difficult. The cold, dry air that is inhaled into the lungs during exercise is believed to be the main cause of exercise-induced asthma. Symptoms typically occur during or after exercise and may be as minor as wheezing and coughing to as severe as a full-blown asthma attack that requires emergency medical attention.
As long as it is well-controlled, exercise-induced asthma doesn't have to interfere with a physically active lifestyle. Along with traditional asthma medications, treatment options can include physical conditioning, adequate warm-ups, avoiding exercise in cold weather, and knowing when to ease up or take a break from physical activity