Asthma need not sideline athletes Medications can prevent attacks


Mark came to me complaining about being short of breath and starting to cough or wheeze approximately 10 minutes after beginning to exercise. I diagnosed exercise-induced asthma, an affliction many people don't realize they have.

Exercise-induced asthma is not a specific disease; it is asthma that is triggered by exercise. All people who have this condition may wheeze when they breathe air-borne irritants such as cigarette smoke, hair spray and allergens (pollen). They also may experience symptoms when they have a respiratory infection, such as bronchitis.

The major stimulus for exercise-induced asthma is breathing dry, cold air. Thus, running in an air-conditioned, indoor gym is far more likely to cause asthma symptoms than swimming in a pool, where the air is warm and moist. In fact, many athletes with asthma choose swimming because they aren't handicapped in the pool, as they would be in the gym. For instance, 80 percent of the Australian Olympic swim team is asthmatic.

Exercise-induced asthma is prevented by using medications, known as beta agonist inhalers (Ventolyn or Proventil). Although they are stimulants, they do not enhance performance; athletes with asthma are permitted to use them throughout Olympic competition.

The effects of most of these inhalers last less than two hours. A new inhaler, called formoterol, can prevent exercise-induced asthma for up to 6 1/2 hours.

But these inhalers are not effective for those individuals who wheeze prior to exercising. These athletes may need to to use cortisone-type drugs to prepare for competition.

* Q: I operate a home-based business and want to buy a treadmill, I can work out without leaving my home/job. What should I look for?

A: Buy a treadmill that is made of sturdy, substantial material. It should be powered by at least a 1-horsepower motor. A weaker motor may not be strong enough to keep the belt moving at a steady pace, when the force of your foot striking the belt can cause it to turn unevenly.

You don't need much else. Extra gadgets can tell you what's going on, but they don't improve the function of the machine.

Warm up by walking or jogging on your new treadmill at 1.1 miles per hour. After a minute or two, increase your pace to 1.5 mph. If you feel short of breath but do not feel any discomfort, keep jogging. Stop if your legs feel heavy or begin to hurt.

If your legs still feel good, increase the speed by .5 miles per hour every minute or two. Stop immediately if you feel any pain. If your legs feel heavy, reduce the belt speed by .5 mph. If your legs still feel heavy after you slow down, end your workout for that day.

If your legs feel good after you increase the pace, continue JTC increasing the speed of the belt by 0.5 mph until you're short of breath.

Try to use your treadmill every other day.

Dr. Mirkin is a practicing physician in Silver Spring specializing in sports medicine and nutrition.

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