Asthma is a common respiratory condition that is triggered by an irritation of the respiratory system. On any given day, 30,000 individuals may experience an attack, estimates the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. It affects more Americans than heart disease, cancer and diabetes combined. In the case of exercise-induced asthma, activity acts as the trigger.
If you have undiagnosed, exercise-induced asthma, the first time you experience an attack can cause you to panic. Symptoms that accompany an attack include tightness in the chest and shortness of breath. Without knowing better, you may fear that you are experiencing a heart attack, which would naturally lead to an increase in heart rate. Airborne allergens such as pollen may worsen your symptoms, fueling your panic and high heart rate.
When you have an exercise-induced asthma attack, your body responds by initiating an inflammatory response. Inflammatory cells release histamine which causes constriction of blood vessels. Muscles surrounding the bronchial tubes in the lungs will spasm, compounding the feelings of shortness of breath. Mucus will also build up in your airways. All these effects contribute to an impairment of the body to deliver oxygen to the cells. As a result, the heart may race to keep up with the body's need for oxygen. The cardiovascular system will work harder to deliver oxygen and remove carbon dioxide.
Particulate matter in the atmosphere can also play a role. During an attack, the systems of your body are compromised in their ability to deliver oxygen to the cells. If you are exercising in humid or smoggy conditions, each breath you take contains less oxygen. The combination of the two will elevate your heart rate as it attempts to perform its function. The combination of humidity and smog is especially problematic. Humidity will cause particulate matter to swell, further depriving your body of much-needed oxygen.
Asthma is incurable but controllable. You may find that certain situations or activities trigger an exercise-induced attack. Your awareness can provide the key to preventing further attacks by avoiding these situations. You may want to refrain from training outdoors if the air quality is poor on a given day. You can also use a bronchodilator to avoid the complications of bronchial constriction which can cause you to panic and elevate your heart rate. Having exercise-induced asthma is not a reason for giving up exercise. You merely have to take the necessary precautions to keep your condition under control.
- Asthma and Allergy Foundation: Asthma Facts and Figures
- Mayo Clinic: Exercise-Induced Asthma - Symptoms
- American College of Sports Medicine: Exercise-Induced Asthma
- "The Physician and Sports Medicine";The inflammatory basis of exercise-induced bronchoconstriction; J. Brannan and J. Turton; December 2010
- "Principles of Anatomy and Physiology"; G. Tortora et al; 2005