Too often, the ability of an athlete to push beyond physical discomfort is seen as a sign of strength. While this may lead to memorable performances, in some instances this may lead to devastating consequences and even untimely death of an athlete. One potentially fatal condition is exercise-induced asthma- a condition that if often trivialized, as some athletes attempt to compete and ignore their active symptoms. The role that exercise plays in inducing an asthma attack in some individuals had been observed centuries ago by the ancient Greek physician, Aretaeus of Cappadocia, when he wrote “If from running, gymnastic exercises, or any other work, the breathing becomes difficult, it is called asthma…”.
To better understand this process, here is the basic structure of our respiratory system:
Roughly 90% of people with asthma have exercise-induced asthma, but the condition can also occur in those who do not have asthma. It is also important to note that this process is even more common in high-level athletes. Signs and symptoms of exercise-induced asthma may include any of the traditional symptoms associated with an asthma attack (eg: wheezing, chest tightness, coughing etc). If you should experience any of these symptoms and you are an asthmatic with a pump close by, definitely take a few puffs while you make your way to seek medical attention. If you are not an asthmatic and do not own a pump, it is important to immediately cease strenuous activity, and attempt to take deep breaths as you make your way to seek medical attention. Never attempt to compete and ignore your symptoms. Competing in the face of a medical ailment may lead to hero status amongst fans and teammates, but it may also lead to an unfavorable health outcome; your wellness always takes priority.
Dayne Ashman is a medical doctor, and a Diplomate of the American Board of Pathology.