UNC Health Care

Exercising Safely with Asthma

More than 20 million people in the United States suffer from asthma, the lung disease caused by narrow or blocked airways. The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America estimates that 80 to 90 percent of people with allergic asthma also experience symptoms of exercise-induced asthma, such as coughing, wheezing, chest tightness and shortness of breath during physical activity. But that doesn’t mean you should avoid exercise-quite the opposite!

Siblings with Asthma using an inhaler
people with asthma may experience symptoms of exercise-induced asthma, such as coughing, wheezing, chest tightness and shortness of breath.

Regular activity can help strengthen your heart and lungs, relieving asthma symptoms. Follow these steps to exercise safely:

1. Take your medication. Your doctor may prescribe two types of inhalers: one that’s used just before exercise and one for long-term asthma control. Medication is one of the best ways to treat an asthma attack. Long-term-control medicines control asthma by reducing inflammation that are taken every day. The quick-relief medicines relax and open your airways at the first sign of an attack. Discuss treatment options with your doctor to keep your asthma under control.

Boy with Asthma using quick-acting inhaler while with his parents.
A quick-acting inhaler is quick-relief due to relaxing and opening your airways at the first sign of an attack.

2. Warm up. Take about 10 minutes to warm up before working out.

3. Exercise in moist air. Breathe through your nose to humidify air before it enters your lungs. If it’s cold and dry, wear a mask or scarf over your nose and mouth.

4. Avoid allergy triggers. For instance, exercise indoors when pollen counts are high. Find out what things make your asthma worse and do your best to avoid them. Asthma cannot be cured, but is manageable with the right treatment. Knowing what triggers your asthma can help keep your symptoms under control.
Common triggers include:

  • Cold air
  • Perfumes and other strong smells
  • Smoke
  • Pet dander
  • Dust
  • Mold
  • Pollen
  • Pollution

To learn more about treatment options for your asthma symptoms or other pulmonary conditions, visit: rexpulmonary.com.