Exercise and Asthma

Editor's Note: When you see these three dots surrounded by a gray rectangle — 1 — you can click on it to get further information about the topic. Click a second time, and the message goes away.

This article was edited and updated on October 9, 2016.

What is asthma?

In Greek, the word asthma means "to pant." The fundamental etiology of asthma remains unknown, but it is defined as "a reversible-obstructive airway disease in which the airways become narrow, resulting in laboured breathing." Various triggers 2 cause inflammation in the bronchial tubes and can lead to permanent structural changes within the bronchial wall.

Although the exact causes of asthma are not known, there is a lot of information available on how to manage the condition.

What are the symptoms of asthma?

The inflammation that occurs in the bronchial tubes makes it hard to get air into the respiratory system.

During an asthma attack, chemical mediators such as histamine are released and the linings of the bronchial tubes become swollen and inflamed (as can be seen in the drawing at the right).

During an asthmatic attack, any or all of these symptoms may occur:

Those who have asthma usually carry an inhaler with them. They may also need immediate medical attention.

Asthma in older adults presents special problems:

Asthma cannot be cured, but it usually can be managed.

What causes asthma?

There is a long list, including allergens and stress. If related to a specific allergen, it is called extrinsic asthma. If it is not related to a specific allergen, it is called intrinsic asthma. Many people with asthma suffer from a combination of the two.

Some of the most common causes are:

What medications are used in the treatment of asthma?

Each person is unique and will require different treatment depending on the severity and causes of the asthma.

Some of the most common prescribed medications are:

Those who suffer from asthmatic attacks will usually have their inhaler with them at all times.

Can an asthmatic person exercise?

Generally speaking, this is possible, but exercise can be a trigger and both the person exercising and anyone with that person should be aware of the potential problems.

After several minutes of strenuous exercise, an asthma attack can occur. It is believed that the key factor in this attack is the loss of heat and water from the tissues lining the respiratory tract, as the airways work to warm and humidify the increased volume of incoming air.

Some basic principles to live by if you have asthma and you also exercise:

Sources for this article:

See also:

This article is part of a series about various health conditions and the benefits of exercise. The other articles are:

I am a BCRPA-certified fitness instructor in Vancouver, BC. I teach four classes at the West End Community Centre in Vancouver, BC, mostly designed for the older adult. The Inevitable Disclaimer: Everything published here expresses only my opinion, based on my training and research. What you do with the information is entirely your own responsibility. I am not liable for any injury you suffer that seems to be related to anything you read here. Always consult your doctor before beginning an exercise program. For other articles, return to the table of contents.

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  1. These three dots behave exactly like a footnote. Click on them and you will get more information about the topic. 

  2. More about exercise-induced asthma later in the article. 

  3. More about that later. 

  4. Rund, 1999