Asthma Triggers Affecting Exercise

Part of the difficulty in managing asthma is that people tend to say “Avoid your triggers,” like it’s an easy thing. With exercise induced asthma, you not only are having to manage the trigger of exercise, but also any other triggers that you may come in contact with in the act of getting active. Pre-medicating with a bronchodilator per your doctor’s instructions may be helpful, but, some triggers still make it tough to exercise despite those precautions.

In my last post, I provided a list of activities, and how they may or may not fit for you with your asthma. Of course, the activity itself is one thing… and the environment is another monster to battle entirely, depending on what kind of triggers affect your asthma.

Individual Activities/Sports - Outdoors (Summer)
Walking, hiking, cycling, swimming, rock climbing, surfing, water skiing, golf, racquet sports, etc.
Triggers you may encounter:
Allergens - pollen, grass, dust, pesticides1, humid air, air pollution (which gets worse in heat), high traffic areas2, weather, such as thunderstorms2, fragrances (yes, unlikely… but do you not notice those people with super fragrant laundry detergent wafting out of their vents? Can’t be just me!), smoke (wood/fire or from cigarettes).
If you have allergies, you may consider taking an antihistamine before exercise, but be aware that the drying effects these medicines may have on your body also might have an adverse effect on your asthma—most athletes are able to get around this by drinking enough water.
Choosing your timing may be helpful in avoiding some of these triggers—for example, you may be able to encounter less humidity later in the day, but possibly with the trade for more smoke exposure..!

Individual Activities/Sports - Outdoors (Winter)
Skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, and so on.
Triggers you may encounter:
Cold air, smoke (wood/fire or from cigarettes).
I have personally found using a cold weather face mask, specially designed for activity, is helpful—if you don’t wear glasses, a scarf may be ample to wear over your face to warm up the air before it hits your lungs (a method I used for years until I acquired a proper mask—it makes me look like a superhero/villain, but it WORKS, and it fogs up my glasses less.)

Individual Activities/Sports - Indoors
Swimming, aquafit/water aerobics
Triggers you may encounter in a pool environment
Chlorine, humidity, mold; fragrances in changing rooms, pet dander in changing rooms.

Walking (track or treadmill), running/jogging (track or treadmill), rock climbing (gym), martial arts, weight training (gym or body weight), racquet sports, volleyball, dance, cardio equipment (gym), skating (arena), yoga, fitness classes… and more.
Triggers in a gym environment:
Dust, dry air, mold, cleaners, germs hanging out on equipment (wash your hands, and wipe equipment down beforeandafter use… and yes I know I just said the cleaners can be an asthma trigger...).
Fragrances used by other participants, and pet dander that’s attached to their clothes may affect you as well (…look, they’re not evil, they just don’t have to think about these things).
Yoga Studios: Some yoga studios may incorporate the use of incense or candles into their practices, or other activities occurring at the same venue. Visit venues where you are considering taking classes ahead of time.
Triggers in an arena: Consider indoor air pollution from machinery such as zambonis. Mold can also be an issue depending on how well the arena is maintained, as might be air circulation.

Team Activities/Sports - Outdoors (Summer)
Soccer, pick-up basketball, beach volleyball, baseball, softball, football, Ultimate Frisbee, football… Keep going :).
Allergens - pollen, grass, dust; humid air, air pollution and traffic fumes, pesticides, fragrances worn by other participants

Team Activities/Sports - Indoors
Hockey, basketball, indoor soccer, volleyball, raquet sports… You get the idea.
Dust, dry air, cleaners, fragrances as discussed previously.
Arena sports: Consider the factors in an indoor arena as discussed in individual indoor activities.

Basically, it’s like solving a puzzle where all the pieces magically keep looking like different shapes. If you’re well versed in your asthma triggers, this list may help you find a starting point for activity. With all activity choices, too, remember: if you're dehydrated, your airways are more prone to easily reacting to your triggers—so, hydration is important, no matter what activity you’re choosing!

Not all triggers will be avoidable, so, the better control you can keep your asthma under, and if you follow your doctor’s advice, you should be able to engage with little need for concern. Speak with your doctor, or a Certified Asthma Educator if you are having trouble making exercise work for you.

Once you get things figured out, though, you’ll be much better prepared for the journey—if something doesn’t work, problem solve, or try something else. You have options--good luck out there!

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