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Sharp Health News

Exercising with asthma

May 2, 2016

Exercising with asthma

"I can't breathe."
"I can't catch my breath."
"I think I'm having a heart attack."

While these are all commonly used phrases for a person out of shape, this fatigue could be a sign of asthma affecting your daily exercise.

According to Dr. Corinne Yarbrough, an internal medical doctor with Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group, the spectrum of asthma severity ranges from mild to severe. The good news: Not all asthma gets worse with exercise.

"On the other hand, some asthma only occurs with exercise," says Dr. Yarbrough. "If untreated, the symptoms of asthma include tight sensation in the chest, difficulty breathing and a wheezing sound that can be high-pitched when exhaling."

When exercising, the signs of asthma will typically start within three minutes after exercise has begun, peak in 15 minutes and resolve within an hour after completing exercise.

She suggests being evaluated by your doctor if you have difficulty breathing while exercising with some or all of the symptoms above.

If you are or have been diagnosed with asthma already, Dr. Yarbrough emphasizes that you should not avoid exercising. "Exercise improves your cardiovascular health, and it also has been proven to actually reduce asthma symptoms," she says.

The exertion of exercise is not the only reason you can have trouble breathing. "Exposure to allergens, cold or dry air, or pollutants can affect your breathing while exercising with asthma," explains Dr. Yarbrough.

She suggests being extra aware of your choice of location and weather while exercising. "Runners should try to avoid exercising on busy roads during peak traffic or on days with high pollen count," recommends Dr. Yarbrough.

"Patients with exercise-induced asthma should breathe into a scarf or face covering on cold, dry days," she adds. While not completely impossible, sports like ice hockey or cross-country skiing can be more difficult for those with exercise-induced asthma because of the dry and cold air.

Exercises generally well-tolerated by those with exercise-induced asthma include sports with short periods of exertion such as baseball, volleyball or walking.

If you still have difficulty exercising with asthma, she recommends getting a custom asthma analysis from your doctor.

"Most people can get their symptoms under control with inhaled bronchodilators 20 minutes prior to exercise," says Dr. Yarbrough. "There are Olympic athletes who have succeeded despite exercise-induced asthma."

For the media: To talk with Dr. Yarbrough about asthma, contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at

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