During the 1992 Summer Olympics, many viewers were astonished to learn that track and field champion Jackie Joyner-Kersee suffered from asthma. Her performance was a triumph for asthma sufferers around the world, proving that asthma does not prevent exercise-even given the demands of top-level competition.
This was an important message for people who, like Joyner-Kersee, suffer from exercise-induced asthma (EIA), a medical problem that affects people of all ages. Symptoms, including wheezing, chest congestion, chest tightness, coughing, or shortness of breath, may appear during exercise or in the cooling-down period afterward.
Running, aerobics, bicycling, and ice hockey are most often associated with exercise-induced asthma. But any cold-weather exercise-from winter walks to snow shoveling-can produce symptoms. Less likely to provoke asthma are activities such as swimming, weight lifting, shot-put, and bowling detoxic.
As Jackie Joyner-Kersee demonstrated, people with exercise-induced asthma don’t need to refrain from exercise. In fact, exercising on a regular schedule, with proper pre-treatment medication, may benefit them. It’s helpful for people with exercise-induced asthma to warm up slowly before exercise and to cool down slowly afterward, and to wear a mask over the mouth and nose in cold air.
Exercise-induced asthma usually occurs in people who already have asthma, but it sometimes occurs in people who don’t experience the condition at any other time. In fact, some Olympic athletes with exercise-induced asthma develop symptoms only following exercise in their particular sport. They may not have any asthma symptoms while at rest or with normal daily activities. Even though their symptoms occur only with strenuous activity, however, such patients are considered to have “asthma detoxic cena.”
EIA and Children
Recognizing exercise-induced asthma in children is very important. Although the actual incidence is unknown, some physicians believe it may occur in up to 20 percent of school children. Failing to identify the problem in a young child could, unfortunately, cause the child to avoid sports and physical activity.
In both children and adults, proper diagnosis and treatment of exercise-induced asthma is critical. A physician, preferably an allergist or a pulmonologist (lung specialist), can make the diagnosis after taking a medical history, performing a physical examination, and conducting lung-function tests. The physician may need to test lung function before and after exercise.
Usually, exercise-induced asthma can be prevented by using a metered-dose inhaler before exercise. Inhalers that dilate the airways, such as albuterol (Ventolin) and nedocromil (Tilade), are often prescribed. Other medications that prevent bronchial spasms, such as cromolyn (Intal), may be effective when used before symptoms occur. Those with exercise-induced asthma should keep their inhaler available during exercise in case a breathing problem should arise.
With these preventive measures, anyone with exercise-induced asthma should be able to participate normally in sports and other vigorous activities.