A blog by runners. For runners.

Exercise-induced asthma: when a cough is more than just a cough

exercise-induced asthma

It’s common for runners to cough after a tough run. Same goes for coughing after running in the cold and dry air.

But what if that cough persists?

A health condition known as exercise-induced asthma is something runners should be aware of because the very nature of their sport makes them possibly more susceptible to this malady.

According to the Mayo Clinic,

Exercised-induced asthma is a narrowing of the airways in the lungs that is triggered by strenuous exercise. It causes shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing and other symptoms during or after exercise. The preferred term for this condition is exercise-induced bronchoconstriction (brong-koh-kun-STRIK-shun). This term is more accurate because the exercise induces narrowing of airways (bronchoconstriction) but is not the root cause of asthma.

While it seems counterintuitive that pursuing an activity that increases pulmonary power and improves cardiovascular fitness would actually put you at risk for a pulmonary health condition such as asthma, the evidence points to that very possibility.

An article on runnersconnect.net summarizes a Finnish study of elite runners and other athletes that concluded many suffered from exercise-induced asthma. The scientists’ conclusion was that the high respiratory rates of vigorous exercise with running greatly exposed runners to allergens, pollens, and air pollution to a greater degree than non-runners. The study showed many of these runners were suffering from asthma and didn’t even know it.

If you have any of the symptoms of exercise-induced asthma, think of where you run and what you might breathing in during those runs. Run along roads with traffic? Car exhaust fumes, sand, and road salt debris are part of what you breathe in. Trail runners should consider the amount of pollen or mold you breathe in alongside wooded trails. And running inside on a treadmill won’t let you automatically escape dust and any other indoor pollutants.

If you think you may have exercise-induced asthma, the best thing to do is speak with your doctor and request a pulmonary fitness test.

Adequately warming up before running could help prevent exercise-induced asthma. This could include 10 minutes of gradually increasing tempo exercise inside before you begin your run. This makes sense if you consider that part of asthma is the spastic constriction of airways. Warm them up, and loosen them up to prepare for hard work.

And something that confronts every runner in the northern hemisphere right now is the cool or downright cold and dry air of winter. To help prevent the shock of the air on your lungs, pull a mask over your nose and mouth to both filter out some of the pollutants and help warm the air before it enter your lungs.

If symptoms persist despite preventative measures, some doctors may prescribe a standard inhaled medication to help open up the airways before, during, or after you exercise. If you have any of the symptoms associated with asthma, despite your level of fitness and performance, talk to your doctor.

Written by Rob Haneisen.

NOTE: This article is not a substitute for medical advice. Please consult your doctor if you have any medical concerns.