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Exercise and Asthma: A Dangerous Mix?

Controlling Asthma

Asthma and Exercise continued...


No matter what triggers your asthma, experts agree that all but those with the most severe asthma should be able to participate in sports and exercise. In fact, Pearl says that people with asthma are less likely to have trouble if they are in good condition. The worse shape you're in, the more you need to breathe to perform an activity, and the easier it is for your airways to dry out.


Jerome "The Bus" Bettis, a 29-year-old player with the Pittsburgh Steelers, was diagnosed with asthma at age 14, but he doesn't let it stop him from following his dream.


The experts agree that most people with asthma can exercise safely if they follow a few basic commonsense tips:


Don't participate in sports unless your asthma is well controlled (with or without daily medication). That means that you're not having a lot of symptoms when you're not exercising.


  • Take a couple of puffs of a bronchodilator about 15 minutes before you exercise. This should prevent an asthma attack during exercise in most people.
  • If you start to feel symptoms of your asthma coming on, stop your activity and use your bronchodilators again. If you don't start feeling better soon after you take your medication again, it might be time to seek emergency care.
  • Do not exercise in conditions that you know make your asthma worse. For instance, don't exercise outside during ragweed season if you are allergic to ragweed.
  • Drink plenty of water to help prevent your airways from drying out.
  • Don't exercise if you have a respiratory tract infection like a cold or flu.
  • Don't exercise outside on hot, dry days.
  • Know that sudden, severe asthma attacks are rare but can occur even in people with mild asthma. They require emergency care. A sudden attack like this might be what killed Wheeler.


Bettis tells WebMD that for him, "the biggest thing [in controlling my asthma during exercise] is to monitor my heart rate and not let it start to soar. Periodically during my workout I need to take breaks and monitor myself. ... When my lungs dry up, it gets a little bit difficult for me, so I take a lot of water breaks. " He says he became motivated to learn more about his asthma when he had an attack in the middle of a game in 1997.


For some people with very severe asthma, certain intense sports, particularly those that require a lot of running, may not be a good idea. One of the best types of exercise for severe asthma sufferers is swimming, since it still gives you a good cardiovascular workout and the warm, humid environment reduces the risk of having an asthma attack.


Whether you're exercising or not, people with moderate to severe asthma should talk to their doctors about developing an action plan. This is a written description of what to do about every sign and symptom of an asthma attack, including when to seek emergency help. Some asthma suffers carry around a device called a peak flow meter. It measures how well you can breathe out and is a good indicator of how bad an asthma attack is.

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