We posed your question to Dr. Timothy Craig, founder of Penn State’s Allergy, Asthma and Immunology Training Program. “Inhalers may still be necessary and should always be carried,” Craig says, but there are five things you can do to help avert your asthma symptoms sans drugs:
When asthmatics exercise, they often experience bronchoconstriction, or a narrowing of the airways in the lungs that restricts airflow. Indiana University researchers showed that asthmatic athletes who complete a high-intensity, interval warm up before exercising can cut that reduced airflow in half. (Subjects experienced a 9 percent reduction versus an 18 percent reduction with no warm up.) The warm up in this study consisted of eight 30-second sprints with 45 seconds of recovery between each sprint.
Wear a mask
The greater the difference in air temperature from your body temperature, the greater your chances of suffering asthma symptoms. Same goes for humidity; the drier the air around you, the more likely you’ll experience asthma symptoms. That makes exercising outside during the winter difficult, but not impossible. Wearing a mask can help warm the air you breathe before it enters your lungs.
Ditch the salt
Studies have shown that just one to two weeks on a low-sodium diet reduced exercise-induced bronchoconstriction in people with asthma, possibly because salt increases airway inflammation following exercise.
Water loss contributes to exercise-induced asthma. “By dehydrating yourself, the airways also become dehydrated,” researcher Dr. Frank Cerny told Science Daily in 1999. “If you have asthma, dehydration may make it worse, particularly during exercise.” Currently, researchers recommend drinking according to thirst when exercising to stay properly hydrated.
There has been some evidence that Fish oil supplements (3.2 grams EPA, 2 grams DHA daily) as well as antioxidants including Vitamin C (1 gram daily), and B vitamin choline (3 g per day) may help ease asthma symptoms by reducing the inflammation in the lungs that makes it hard to breathe. Magnesium may also help, though researchers are unsure of how. They’ve been recommending it simply because many asthmatics have low magnesium levels.
Kudos to you for sticking with your activities—it’s the best thing you can do. Researchers believe exercise improves asthma control in the long run by reducing the type of inflammation that can lead to permanent, asthma-exacerbating changes in the lungs.
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