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Ask the Coach: Asthma on the Trail

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I do a lot of speed workouts. I have asthma, and have suffered multiple attacks after running sprints. How do I know when I am pushing too hard, and what can I do to alleviate asthma during training?

—Sydney Garza, Bakersfield, CA

Every day in America 30,000 people have an asthma attack. It’s estimated that one in 15 people are afflicted with the condition, which inflames and narrows airways, causing breathing difficulty. Both genetic disposition and environmental factors, such as allergens, irritants and exercise, cause asthma. Acute asthma attacks increase in severity of symptoms, including wheezing, coughing, chest tightness and shortness of breath.

Heat, cold and humidity may trigger an attack in runners with exercise-induced asthma. Once triggered the lining of the airways become inflamed and mucus production increases.

Says Dr. Stephen A. Tilles, Executive Director of ASTHMA Inc. Clinical Research Center, “Allowing asthma symptoms to develop during intense exercise is not recommended and can be dangerous.”

Widely prescribed and effective inhalers called “bronchodilators” are often used before running to both prevent and reverse symptoms. This could be enough to completely avoid your speed-workout asthma attacks. Controlling the underlying inflammation, though, may require a daily inhaled anti-inflammatory medication. Says Dr. Tilles, “This usually comes as an inhaled steroid, which dramatically reduces bronchial hyperresponsiveness and should also help reduce symptoms due to air pollution.” Although rare, the worst side effect is “hoarseness,” which is caused by the inhaled medication coating the throat.

Dr. Tilles stresses working with a profesional to confirm the diagnosis and figure out what will work best for you.