Here is the second part of a very interesting inquiry I received from a parent of a high school runner.
My daughter has exercise induced asthma which first appeared following a bout of pneumonia for which she was nearly hospitalized. Her track coaches expect her to run nearly all events at any given time, nothing is consistent from meet to meet or year to year. She is now a junior in high school. If she does a 100m sprint, as told to do by her coach about two events prior to running a 400m dash, she finds it extremely difficult to finish the race. Thus, her times are poor. She does much better if she simply stretches and does a light jog, or a brisk walk. What do you suggest?
OK, before I begin lawyers around the world want to be sure I tell everyone: I’m not a doctor and nothing said here is meant to contradict what your doctor says about your condition or use of medications.
I was diagnosed with Exercised Induced Asthma (EIA) or “Exertional Asthma” more than 25 years ago. I have been on long acting medications/inhlalers as well as the fast acting inhalers for acute asthma attacks. No doubt dealing with this condition poses challenges for athletes needing to breathe freely to perform their best. Shorter distance performances (like sprints -100/200) will suffer far less than longer distances when an athlete deals with bouts of EIA. By the way, EIA effects 12-15% of the general public. The good news is that for most people most of the time it is ranges from minor to sporadic and rarely keeps someone from fully participating in sports. There are EIC sufferers who are Olympic runners. Therefore, only in the rarest of cases should someone avoid sports due to EIA. In fact, it has been shown that exercise has far more positive effects not only on the lungs but the whole body that far outweigh non-participation.
EIA can be precipitated by environmental allergies, cold air, dry air, and dust amongst other things. Also, stress, dehydration illness (colds/flu) and a general run-down condition will increase incidents of EIA. It can be temporary and it can be geographically instigated (i.e. I never have problems on the coast or up north, but I do here in the dry dusty desert). So, practicing prevention is the first step in managing EIA.
Second, be sure to stay on the medications prescribed by your doctor. And keep your inhaler close by at all times when working out. I even have one girl run with it at all times. Either she puts it in a small pocket in her shorts or she keeps it in her sports bra.
One recommendation which I find absurd is nose breathing. True it may help because your nasal passages help filter and humidify the air before it hits your bronchi. However, if you are a competitive athlete in an aerobic activity there is no possible way you will take in sufficient air (oxygen) through your nose – even with a nose the size of mine! If you do a sprint you might get away with it. If you run anything from 400 meters on up forget it.
To the point of your question: Contrary to what your daughter is doing, more extensively warming up is one way to minimize and in some cases even eliminate EIA. Timing is everything however. Athletes should use a patterned warm-up. It is critical to do more not less in warming up. There are chemical changes that take place that help. [I won’t even try to give a layman’s explanation to what my Dr. described but it is related to histamines/anti-histamines.] The trick is that even if you have some breathing difficulties in warm-up you should work through it because there is a good chance you will be able to still compete well by the time the race starts. Next, use your inhaler as indicated during or just after your warm-up. ideally, you have about 15-30 minutes after administration of your inhaler to get the race underway.
So, I certainly could be wrong not observing your daughter firsthand but experience says to experiment with far MORE warming up not less. I would recommend a pattern like: 30 minute warm-up ending about 15 minutes before race time – inhaler as needed – relaxing – final strides warm up – race. If you run multiple races and time between races is short, stay warmed up and do not cool down.
Variations are great between EIA sufferers. The best thing an athlete can do is learn their unique patterns and response. Once you find something that works – stick to it!
Finally, part of coping with EIA is admitting that there will be good days and bad days and you may not have any control over it – with or without medications. Adopting a philosophical approach to those days and those performances is important to coping. It is still better to be out there doing something – even if not up to usual standards – than doing nothing and making it an excuse not to run/workout.