Running and asthma - what you need to know

According to Asthma UK, 5.4 million people suffer from asthma in the UK. For many of them, activities like running can be a trigger for their condition to rear its head.

Running and asthma - what you need to know

But if you are an asthma sufferer and you manage it well, it needn’t prevent you from achieving your running goals.

Asthma and running

If you suffer from asthma, exercise can be a catalyst. The higher rate at which you breathe in and out when running means you are giving that cold air coming in less time to moisten and warm up.

For some people, this will cause their airways to bet narrower and, say Asthma UK, bring on symptoms like: “coughing, wheezing, a shortness of breath and tightness in the chest.”

These circumstances are more likely to occur if you’re not managing your asthma well, say the charity.

Exercise-induced asthma

This specific type of asthma only occurs as a result of exercise, ie you don’t suffer from it on any other occasions. In these cases, the symptoms are the same but only intensify after exercise before beginning to get better.

Asthma UK say: “If you think you have asthma that comes on only after you exercise, let your GP or asthma nurse know.

“If you do have exercise-induced asthma, the treatment is the same and you can still exercise. You just need to find ways to reduce the risk of exercising affecting you. Start by talking to your GP.”

Pollen

There are lots of different types of pollen, but for marathon runners, it’s the tree pollen that is released between March and May when so many UK marathons take place, that can have its biggest impact.

To understand if pollen is going to cause your asthma symptoms to come to the fore, it’s worth keeping a note of whether or not you felt affected when in the garden or the park, and also keeping a track of the pollen count each day and assessing how you feel on the days when you know it’s high.

The runner’s asthma checklist

It’s useful to understand what you should feel like normally when you run and the way you will feel if your exercise is aggravating your asthma. Asthma UK says, when you're exercising, it's normal if you're breathing faster and harder, your heart is beating faster, you're feeling hot and sweaty, you look flushed.

Your running is triggering your asthma if you start coughing/wheezing, you are gasping for air/very short of breath/can't get enough air, you feel tightness in the chest, you have trouble speaking in short sentences. Younger children may complain that their chest or tummy hurts.

You're having an asthma attack and you need to get help immediately if your reliever inhaler doesn't help, your symptoms are getting worse (cough, breathlessness, wheeze or tight chest), you're too breathless to speak.

How to reduce the risk of running triggering your asthma

Managing your asthma well can help. This means following these steps:

  • Take your medication as prescribed and discussed with your GP or asthma nurse.
  • Check with your doctor or asthma nurse that you're using your inhaler correctly.
  • Use an up to date written asthma action plan and keep it where you can see it (on the fridge, for example).
  • Go for regular asthma reviews.