Most people with chronic asthma experience asthma symptoms when they exercise. But many people who never experience asthma symptoms also can experience the same chest-tightening and shortness of breath when they work out – especially in cold weather.
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Working out in frigid temps is a stimuli for exercise-induced asthma. The culprit is cold, dry air.
The symptoms of exercise-induced asthma develop when your airways narrow as a result of physical exertion. The symptoms are brought on when you quickly breathe in air that is drier than what is already in your body, which causes a loss of heat, water, or both from your lungs. This dynamic becomes even more of a risk in cold weather because the air is dry.
Common symptoms of exercise-induced asthma include:
- Tightness in the chest
- Feeling short of breath while exercising
Symptoms of exercise-induced asthma generally begin within five to 20 minutes after the start of physical activity, and typically end after exercise has stopped.
The greatest threat is when the thermometer is at its lowest, says asthma specialist Rachel Taliercio, MD. A good rule of thumb is avoid exercising when outdoor temps fall below 10 degrees.
“If the weather is in the single digits, you should exercise indoors to avoid exercise-induced spasm in the lung,” Dr. Taliercio says.
Symptoms of exercise-induced asthma typically won’t subside unless you stop exercising, Dr. Taliercio says.
If the symptoms don’t go away after taking a break, she recommends calling your doctor.
You also can take precautions against exercise-induced asthma before heading outside to exercise.
Taking the time to warm up before exercise and then to cool down afterward is a good strategy, Dr. Taliercio says. Such light activity can give you added protection against exercise-induced asthma.
“In addition, use your rescue inhaler ten to 15 minutes before you exercise out in the cold air to open up the lungs and make it easier to breathe.” Dr. Taliercio says. “You also can run with a knitted face mask or a scarf that covers your nose and mouth, that’s always a really good idea.”
If you’ve never been diagnosed with exercise-induced asthma and notice asthma-like symptoms when you’re exercising outside, see your doctor.
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