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Running and Breathing Problems

author image Martin Booe
Martin Booe writes about health, wellness and the blues. His byline has appeared in the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times and Bon Appetit. He lives in Los Angeles.
Running and Breathing Problems
Breathing problems put you at the back of the running pack. Photo Credit Mike Powell/DigitalVision/Getty Images

Along with skeletal and muscular complaints, breathing problems are one of the biggest difficulties runner experience. Many respiratory problems can be treated and prevented, so it's worth drilling into the source of the problem.

In the long run, running provides gigantic benefits to your cardiovascular system, so try not to give it up entirely.

Read More: Why Do My Ears Always Hurt When I Exercise?

Asthma and Exercise

Asthma is a chronic condition in which the airways of the lungs become inflamed, making it hard for air to circulate in and out of the lungs. Symptoms include shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing and tightness in the chest.

For people who have asthma, which has a strong connection to allergies, exercise may make it worse. Sometimes, otherwise healthy people only develop asthma when exercising -- a condition called exercise-induced asthma, or EIA.

In addition to environmental allergens such as pollen, EIA triggers include dry air and cold air, pollution and viruses that hit your respiratory system. The best preventive measure for EIA may simply be warming up properly, according to a March, 2012 study in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, which evaluated several warm-up exercises for their effectiveness in preventing EIA.

One of the most effective preventions is warming up with short bursts of high-intensity exercise the study found. Extend your warm-up period to 20 or 30 minutes of fast walking or light jogging, but crank up your speed for 2 minutes and then return to a slower pace for 3 minutes; repeat two to three times. Doing that before going into a full run could provide you with up to 80 minutes worth of protection against EIA, according to the journal.

If warming up doesn't knock the problem, you can try over-the-counter allergy and asthma medications. But if the problem is persistent and sidelining you from running and other exercise, it's a good idea to see a doctor, who may prescribe an inhaler or other medications to prevent attacks.

Exercise-Induced Laryngeal Obstruction

Asthma may be the main culprit in breathing issues related to running, but it may also be mistaken for another condition called exercise-induced laryngeal obstruction (EILO). EILO causes the vocal cords to constrict in a way that can cause severe shortness of breath by restricting airflow through the wind pipe.

A study in the November 2013 issue of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise surmised that EILO is much more common in athletes than previously thought. It found that of 53 athletes being treated for asthma, 12 tested positive for EILO but did not have asthma. EILO is normally treated with breathing, postural and other behavior modification exercises. It's sometimes corrected surgically.

Once you're in control of breathing, you can lace up your running shoes with confidence.
Once you're in control of breathing, you can lace up your running shoes with confidence. Photo Credit Eyecandy Images/Eyecandy Images/Getty Images

Or Maybe It's Just Part of Getting in Shape

Have you been living your life as a couch potato for the past several years and just started running? Your breathing problems may just be your body being overwhelmed by this sudden need for oxygen when it's been getting by on potato chips for such a long time.

Your lungs, rib cage and even your pectoral muscles are going to feel it as they stretch and expand to make room for more air. The solution -- in addition to warming up -- may be to temporarily scale back your ambitions. Instead of over-training and burning out, start with slower, shorter runs, adding distance and speed in manageable increments -- because although breathing may be uncomfortable for now, your respiratory tract will thank you in the future for persisting.

Read More: Can Running Help Cure a Sinus Infection?

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