Running is one of the worst exercise for triggering asthma attacks, therefore, it makes sense to think that running and asthma are mutually exclusive.
Combined with the high pollen count and dust levels it is certainly a strong asthma trigger. But it need not be the end of the road.
Paula Radcliffe, a world record holder from Great Britain was diagnosed with exercise induced asthma at a tender age of 14 and 25% of the London 2012 Team GB athletics squad had it as well.
This is clear proof that it is possible for asthmatics to enjoy and even excel at intensive sports like running.
How to Start Running with Asthma: A Comprehensive Guide
According to Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, at least one person in every fourteen has asthma but it does not have to hold you back, there are ways around it.
As defined by the Asthma initiative of Michigan, asthma is a long term health condition that affects the airways.
These are the tubes that carry air in and out of the lungs.
A person with asthma has more sensitive airways that get inflamed easily when they come into contact with any allergens. These allergens are called triggers and each person has different triggers.
The common triggers include but are not limited to:
- Animal Allergy
- Cockroaches (ewwww)
- Strong Odors and Spray
- Tobacco smoke and other smoke
- Emotions and many others
Asthma also tends to be hereditary especially if there is a history of smoking or allergies the family.
How Asthma Affects The Airways
When a person with asthma comes into contact with anything that irritates the airways, it makes the body to react in the following ways:
- The muscles on the walls of the airways tighten narrowing the airways
- The lining of the airways begin to swell
- Phlegm or sticky mucus builds up narrowing the airways further
These reactions makes it difficult to breathe leading to asthma symptoms such as coughing, wheezing and chest tightness.
During an asthma attack, the airways become narrower and the bronchial tubes swell restricting the flow of air.
How Running Triggers An Asthma Attack
When breathing normally, air passes through the nasal passages where it is first moistened and warmed up.
However, when running, people tend to breathe faster and through the mouth meaning that the air is not warmed up or moistened. As a result, the air that gets to the airways is colder and dry which triggers the symptoms of EIA (Exercise Induced Asthma).
According to the American College allergy, asthma and immunology, during an exercise induced asthma attack, the muscle around the airways become sensitive to the changes in humidity and temperature and react by contracting which in turn narrows the airways resulting to symptoms such as these common asthma symptoms:
- Shortness of Breathe
- Unusual Fatigure
- Sore Throat
- Tightening of the Chest
- Continuous Coughing
- Upset Stomach
- Decreased Endurance
Exercise Induced Asthma: Over 80-percent of people with asthma will experience the symptoms triggered by running and the symptoms begin either within a few minutes after a person starts running and may continue for 10-15 minutes after the exercise
However, this does not mean that a person with asthma cannot enjoy running, in fact, running and asthma is a healthy combination but only if done safely and properly.
How To Breathe When Running
You are probably wondering if there is a special way to breathe while running with asthma. Well, according to experts at Asthma MD, you should focus on breathing deep in the stomach.
The right and most effective breathing should come from the diaphragm and not the chest.
If you breathe through the chest this can sometimes cause hiccups, which are no fun running with.
To try this, pay attention to how you breathe just before you fall asleep. The shoulders do not rise and the stomach bulges out when you breathe in deeply. This is the same way you should breathe when running. You can put your hand on your stomach, it will help you focus.
Pursed lip breathing on the other hand helps to prevent chest pains as it regulates your breathing. I breakdown several other breathing techniques and strategies here.
8 Simple Tips on How To Start Running With Asthma
The following are tips to help run with asthma as stated by Bill Roberts, a renowned professor at University of Minnesota Medical School and medical director with the Twin Cities Marathon. These tips are designed to help prevent exercise induced asthma attacks.
#1. Proper Asthma Management
First and foremost, you should get approval from a healthcare provider before you start running.
Ensure you get as much information as you can about your condition and fully understand when and how to use the prescribed medication. Also, your asthma should be well controlled before you can start running.
Once you learn how to control this medical condition, it will no longer take a toll of you. CNN put together a very in-depth a quick video highlighting exercising can induce a asthma attack and how you can manage it.
Most asthmatic people think that skipping to warm up will help to save their lung power for the race but the truth is, getting the lungs work hard enough before running will help prevent an attack.
According to Bill Roberts, a medical director for Twin Cities Marathon, bronchospasm has a refractory period and if you warm up hard enough until you experience some wheezing and coughing, it will take another 4-6 hours before you can have another spasm.
Therefore, the key is to warm up hard enough until you get a small attack without draining your energy.
#3. Cover Your Face
As stated above, breathing cold air when running irritates the airways leading to a heart attack. To prevent this, cover your nose and mouth when running so that the cold air is moistened by the moist air you exhale.
Consider purchasing either neck gaiters or fleece balaclavas as they help to maintain warm air even when wet and they stay thawed quite easily and void cotton bandanas because they freeze against your face during cold weather.
#4. Protect Against Pollen
The Family Allergy & Asthma Doctors point out that pollen grains trigger asthma symptoms for most sufferers of exercise induced asthma, therefore, it is advisable to run when the pollen counts are extremely low which is usually in the early mornings.
After running, shower immediately to get any pollen off your skin and hair and toss the workout clothes into the laundry basket.
In case the pollen count is too high at the time you want to run, consider substituting with an indoor activity or doing an outdoor activity that will not make you breathe as hard as when run such as walking or biking.
#5. Carry Room Temperature With You
Just like other runners, you will need to carry water with you when running. Without it your throat may get too dry and this can trigger an asthma attack.
No matter how tempting it is to carry ice cold water especially during the hot months stick to room temperature water as it works best with asthmatic people as it is easier on the lungs and will not irritate the airways
#6. Carry Your Inhaler & Medicine
Even though you have not had an asthma attack for a while, you should always carry your rescue inhaler while running.
You can slip it into so many places like the pockets in your running shorts. Bit if your running gear does not have pockets, consider buying a zipper wristband that your inhaler can perfectly fit into your pocket.
I would also encourage bringing asthma medications with you in a small bag or take them 30-45 minutes BEFORE you start to run.
#7. Consider Wearing an Alert Tag
Getting the right medication fast during an asthma attack is crucial and a bracelet indicating that you are asthmatic will save your responders time spent figuring out the problem.
A simple MEDICAL ID dog tog that you put around your neck or through your shoelaces would be perfect.
#8. Tell A Friend
Even after taking all the recommended precautions, an asthma attack can still happen. For this reason, tell a friend where you are going and for how long you expect to be gone.
Also if you have a mobile phone, carry it with you and tell your friend to check on you after some time
If you have ever had a flash attack, where you go from feeling good to being in distress, you should not run alone. Either run with a group or a friend who is aware of your condition and how to respond in case of an attack
Running with asthma does not come without obstacles but once you learn how to overcome them you will begin to enjoy physical activities including running. If you have always has asthma or have been recently diagnosed, the above tips will help keep this condition in check as well as help you live a normal and healthy lifestyle.
Hi, Jeremy Here,
I am the the guy behind Train for a 5K. On this site, I share everything that learned along my running journey. The content I create is the running training I wish I had before we started this journey. About Me.