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I have asthma. Do I have to quit running?

Out of breath

Anyone with asthma knows how scary the condition can be. A full-blown attack that suddenly leaves an asthmatic working for every breath is a panicking situation. For those who struggle with asthma, exercise can bring on a flare-up. That leads many to wonder if they should stay away from running altogether.

What is asthma?

In plain language, an asthma attack causes the muscles around airways to tighten and the airways themselves become inflamed, making it difficult to breathe. Every asthmatic will have a trigger that causes an attack to occur and those will vary from person to person. The trigger is not what causes asthma, it’s what causes the attack. Examples of common triggers include smoke, pollen, dust, animal dander, cold air or exercise. A runner who suffers from asthma could have their condition flare up thanks as a result of one or several of these triggers. During an attack, a sufferer will feel shortness of breath, tightness or wheezing or sometimes, the lungs will feel tingly or itchy.

Exercise-induced asthma

If running often causes an attack, you likely have exercise-induced asthma. That means that conditions involved with working out is your trigger. In most cases, this happens because by breathing quicker, the lungs become irritated by either colder or less-humid air.

Not everyone with asthma has exercise-induced asthma though. Your asthma might only be triggered by smoke or pollen. In that case, running won’t affect you.

If running does cause an attack, you don’t have to quit. Several runners carry medication just in case of a flare up. Depending on the severity of the attack, a few minutes of deep breathing can reverse it as well. Finally, if cold air is an irritant, in winter, wear a neck warmer around the mouth to keep in moisture.