Do you like running? But do you run out of breath and sound like Darth Vader when you run? Maybe you have asthma.
Recently my cousin, who is a budding journalist in the Philippines, asked me questions on the subject of asthma and running, knowing that I am a lung specialist as well as a runner. He said that he was writing it for a fitness website. I would like to share them here.
1. How does asthma affect people? What does it do to their bodies?
Asthma is a condition in which there’s two main components, (1) narrowing of bronchial airways (bronchoconstriction) and (2) swelling (inflammation) causing edema and production of extra mucus. These can cause the difficulty breathing and wheezing, making you sound like Darth Vader. These attacks can be intermittent and reversible, and triggered by exposure to certain allergens.
2. Can everybody have asthma?
No. It is most likely genetic or familial predisposition that leads to one’s having asthma. For example, there are certain triggers that can cause an asthmatic attack, like house dust mite, but not all people will react to it. It is like an allergic reaction, where a predisposed person’s immune system overreact to the trigger.
So if you have asthma, you can partly blame your parents and the genes they passed on to you.
I’m not sure if Luke Skywalker have asthma too (“Luke, I am your father” – Darth Vader).
3. What are the common causes of asthma?
There is a wide gamut of asthma triggers and can differ from person to person:
A. Inhaled allergens – like house dust mite, pollen, cockroaches (I hate cockroaches), indoor and outdoor fungi/mold, pet dander (I feel sorry for pet-lovers if their beloved pet cause them their asthma attacks).
B. Respiratory infections – common cold and other viruses, or bacterial infections
C. Inhaled respiratory irritant – cigarette smoke, pollution and smog (like in Manila!), certain chemicals like volatile gases that can be at the work place, and even (cheap?) perfume. If you have a co-worker that has a body odor, you can tell them to take a shower for it can trigger your asthma. Just kidding.
D. Hormonal fluctuations – like in pre-menstrual and menstrual period in women; it can be part of pre-menstrual syndrome!
E. Medications – like beta blockers (metoprolol) that is use as an antihypertensive or in heart patients.
F. Physical activity – exercise
G. Emotional state – anxiety, sudden upsets. Yes being dumped by your girlfriend can cause an asthma attack!
H. Temperature and weather – cold air, hot humid air, wet conditions (which can increase respiratory allergens in the air).
4. What are the symptoms of asthma?
Most common symptom of asthma is difficulty in breathing, with sensation of chest tightness. You feel like you have a rubber band around your chest. When more severe, wheezing ensues. If really severe, it can lead to respiratory failure. A persistent cough can be a symptom of asthma as well, which is from the constriction of the airways.
5. Can it be prevented?
Yes. Avoiding the triggers as what I mentioned above. Also by using medications such as inhalers, especially the inhaled corticosteroid that kind of stabilizes the membranes of the respiratory tract of an asthmatic, so it won’t be so reactive. This lessen the attacks.
6. What’s the cure for asthma?
No cure for asthma. If you have it, most likely you’ll have it for life. Sorry Darth Vader. But we can control or minimize the symptom or lessen the attacks through avoidance of triggers and through medications. Asthmatics can do whatever they want and can live a “normal” life if their asthma is well-controlled.
7. Can running trigger asthma?
Yes. As any other form of exercise can.
8. Can a person still run if he/she is an asthmatic?
Yes. Even though exercise is a potential asthma trigger, it should NOT be avoided.
9. Can running help a person fight asthma then?
Yes. Aerobic exercise strengthens the cardiovascular system and may lessen the sensitivity to asthma triggers.
However, it is important for persons with asthma who are not in a regular pattern of exercise to build-up their activity level slowly to minimize the risk of inducing asthma. Also, if exercise is your asthma trigger, use your “rescue” inhaler (like albuterol meter-dose-inhaler) 5 -10 minutes before you exercise to preempt the attack. And if you have an attack while exercising, you can use the inhaler again.
10. Can a person run if he/she has an asthmatic attack or episode?
Yes and no. If the asthma attack is pretty mild, you may be able to endure it. However if the attack is significant that you’re wheezing, I would recommend to take it easy for that day.
11. How long should a person run after he recovered from an asthmatic attack?
No fast rules. You can sense when you’re ready. Listen to your body.
12. What’s your advice to people with asthma who wants to enjoy running?
Continue running. But you may want to run when it is not so hot and humid, (or too cold if you’re not in the Philippines). Or run in areas not so polluted or smoggy. That is maybe doing it early in the morning.
Also avoid stray dogs. Not because it can trigger your asthma, but it can chase you!
13. What should runners with asthma remember during their runs?
Have your rescue inhaler handy during your runs. It easily fits in even the smallest pocket of a running shorts anyway.
If there’s a lot of dogs in your area, you can carry a pepper spray too to ward them off. Just don’t mistake it for your inhaler!
And most importantly, have fun!
(*photos from the net)