Running and Breathing: Exercise Induced Asthma

Off and on during the summer I talked about shortness of breath while running. The difficulty with the Gulf Coast Half, The Heights Half and Little Miami Half. The worst pain ever with the horrible side stitch. I kept attributing it all to the heat and high humidity. Wrong! During my long run on Sun I noticed my breathing was shallow and labored earlier than usual. It quickly got worse to the point of struggling to breathe and my throat feeling like it was closing. Until now it had never been so bad that I even considered asthma. I was so focused on the pain from the side stitch (symptom) that I missed the cause.

Right before the finish at the Indy Women’s Half Marathon. I blamed the breathing difficulty on the humidity.

On Tuesday I went to the doctor. After a few tests ruling out other causes and the doctor commenting that I was “incredibly fit” (LOVED hearing that!) I was diagnosed with Exercise Induced Asthma. Followed by a lengthy conversation about how dangerous it is. The good news? With proper treatment there is no reason I can’t continue to run and live an active lifestyle!

Meet my new running must-have and best friend.

Yesterday, with a little hesitation, I ran for the first time since Sunday. The not breathing thing kind of freaked me out and it wasn’t an experience I want to repeat. As prescribed, I took 2 puffs of an Albuterol Inhaler before exercising. At first I, of course, over focused on my breathing and kept waiting for the struggle. Mile 2, fine. Mile 3 increased my pace and breathing easy. Ran mile 4 a little faster and breathing was even and deeper than it had been in months. Finished the 5 mile run strong! I hadn’t realized how bad it was until this run. My breathing never became strained or shallow and there was no weight or tightness in my chest! I swear that morning the stars were brighter, the night was clearer (we were running at 5:00 a.m.) and the air was fresher. I felt better than I have in months and I loved running again.

In case you’re interested…

Symptoms (my symptoms in bold):

  • coughing
  • wheezing
  • shortness of breath
  • chest tightness or pain
  • fatigue during exercise
  • poor athletic performance

Signs of an asthma attack that needs emergency treatment include (Mayo Clinic) :

  • shortness of breath or wheezing that is quickly getting worse
  • no improvement even after using a rescue inhaler, such as an albuterol inhaler
  • shortness of breath that continues even after you’ve recovered from your workout

Factors that can trigger or worsen exercise-induced asthma include:

  • cold air
  • dry air
  • high humidity
  • air pollution such as smoke or smog
  • high pollen counts
  • having a respiratory infection such as a cold
  • chemicals, such as chlorine in swimming pools

Although you can’t prevent the development of exercise-induced asthma, you can take steps to prevent worsening symptoms:

  • Warm up for about 10 minutes before strenuous exercise.
  • Do your best to avoid colds and other respiratory infections. Don’t do strenuous exercise when you have a cold.
  • Avoid allergens when exercising if they worsen your symptoms.
  • Learn to breathe through your nose to warm air before it goes into your lungs.
  • Keep your mouth and nose covered during exercise in cold weather.
  • Don’t avoid exercise because you have asthma. Staying in good shape can ease asthma symptoms in the long run.

There was a period of time this summer when running became so difficult. I was discouraged and seriously considered quitting. Quit running? What was I thinking?!?

Instead of quitting I want to run more! I have big plans for the rest of 2012!

Funny story: The doctor told me the inhaler lasts about 6 hours. I asked her what if I’m running longer than 6 hours (ultra in Nov!)? She looked at me as if she was going to laugh. She thought I was joking. When she realized I was serious the look on her face was priceless!

Have you ever been so frustrated that you considered giving up? 

About Jill Conyers

Loving life as a wife, mom of 2, health and fitness blogger and ultrarunner. I believe in the importance of wellness, living passionately by design and being the best that I can be.

Posted under #FitFluential, Ambassador, Running

31 comments on “Running and Breathing: Exercise Induced Asthma

  1. I’ve often times thought I had exercise induced asthma but have never been tested. I avoid taking medicine if I dont have to and really do not want to be labeled with it and have to worry about an inhaler. I havent noticed my breathing as bad lately so I’m curious if it is just heavy breathing when I increase my mileage. I will have to start paying attention to my symptoms the next time my breathing is labored. Thanks for sharing and so glad you are enjoying running again!

  2. Ive had exercise-induced asthma ever since I was little .. It took us a while to figure it out, but once I started using the inhaler it was a whole new world. I still take it before every run and it’s a miracle! Good luck with your running and glad you were able to figure things out! :)

  3. I can SO relate to this. Last April I had the same symptoms and chalked it up to allergies. Months went by and it got worse and scarier to the point I wanted to avoid running. I was diagnosed with exercise induced reactive airway. Like you I use an inhaler before I run but that first run with the inhaler was scary, didn’t want those breathing issues again. Glad you went to the doc and got it figured out!

  4. so sorry about the asthma! my cousin suffers in the same way! hang in there and stay positive!! you can beat it!!! unrelated, but i am seriously loving the new look of the blog!! spa love!

  5. I was diagnosed about 10 years ago, but only was symptomatic for about 2 years. I should get my breathing checked again to make sure it hasn’t creeped back up. It only flared up during longer runs but my main symptoms were coughing afterwards — I literally did not believe that I had athsma – just an annoying cough It really is a serious condition and not to be ignored, because of the danger of an acute attack.

  6. I’m kind of in that process right now– I’m a newbie runner, and I’m trying to increase my stamina, but have been having the hardest time with that. I know that I have to just keep plugging along, but sometimes I get a bit impatient! LOL

  7. I have exercise-induced asthma since I was a kid. It’s definitely manageable and doesn’t keep me from being active. It actually got better as I have gotten older and I don’t use an inhaler anymore. Isn’t it amazing to feel the difference once you figure it out??

  8. Thanks so much for sharing this! I’m so glad you found a treatment and your running isn’t affected anymore. I breath really heavy when I run but haven’t thought anything of it. I’ll monitor my symptoms to see if there could be more to it. Thanks!

  9. Oh my goodness, that top picture looks like you are having some serious breathing trouble. Sorry it’s been so bad, but so glad you went to see the doc and happy you had such a great run! Bring on the ultra!

  10. I hope you keep your inhaler with you. I’ve dealt with asthma for years and while a quick puff before starting exercise works ninety percent of the time. The other ten percent can be really bad. I’m really glad they found outt what was ailing you and sorry you are joining the asthma league.

  11. Oh I am so glad that you figured it out! My mom has to use an inhaler before she runs and if she doesn’t she really struggles.

    When I was injured I felt like I wanted to give up, but I’m glad I didn’t! I’m glad you didn’t give up either!

  12. I too have EIA. I have finished 35 marathons, countless 1/2s and shorter distances. For a while, I was on three different preventative medications, plus carried the albuterol while running (I made a cute little holder that would clip onto my running shorts and be quickly accessible). I have dropped from only two marathons because of the asthma, but I had problems in almost all of them. Now that I don’t train as hard, I cut out the extra meds and just carry the rescue inhaler when I race.

    One of the things that was really key for me in marathon training was to go the distance during training. For some reason, that seemed to help my lungs adapt so that when I ran the actual race, I didn’t have as many problems.

    I’m glad you got your problems diagnosed and have a plan to overcome them. I love the bit about running over six hours. I would have loved to see her face.

  13. A few years back I was diagnosed with the same thing. I also had coughing and shortness of breath. After a while I wasn’t always better with the inhaler and sometimes it made it worse! This past year I found out it was actually a heart condition. All good now and no inhaler, but I remember how frustrating it was dealing with it over the years. I’m glad you have an answer and can keep with what you love

  14. Lots of great information on this topic! Happy to hear your Doctor was able to diagnose it!

    I have pump up before going out for my runs…It’s a MUST!

    I do find the weather (especially humid temperatures) has a huge impact on my breathing.

  15. I’ve had issues breathing in the cold in the past. I’m curious to see what happens this winter. We didn’t have a really cold winter last year.

    I was really frustrated at the beginning of September with my running. I came back from the first one thinking I never would run again. Then, the next time I went out, I did better, and better, and now I’m working my way back up again. I am so appreciative of being able to run.

    I’ve promised myself a new pair of running shoes once I’ve gotten through September.

  16. I’m so glad you received this diagnosis so quickly – I have asthma, but it took like a year for my dr to diagnose it properly! I was coughing so hard at night I couldn’t sleep. I wasn’t running much at the time, so no connection there. Only after I found myself wheezing after a quick jog up the street did I take more action.
    Another thing I do before runs during allergy season – I take a pseudoephedrin pill (30mg – the real stuff that you have to buy with your driver’s license) – it clears up my nose so I can breathe better through it.

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