This blog is about running with asthma. My first experience of asthma and running is probably like most people’s. Someone in their class at school had an asthma attack during a P.E. Lesson. They dropped out of the lesson, only to return to another lesson, maybe art, later in the day. This is termed exercise induced asthma. And for those who don’t know about asthma, you may start to believe that people with asthma shouldn’t exercise, and certainly shouldn’t run. Not true. Read on to learn more.
According to Asthma UK, Asthma is a long-term condition that affects the tubes carrying air in and out of your lungs.
In the UK, around 5.4 million people are currently receiving treatment for asthma. That’s one in every 12 adults and one in every 11 children. Asthma affects more boys than girls. Asthma in adults is more common in women than men.
I was diagnosed with asthma about 5 years ago. It was a bit of a shock, although there was a family history. I sought medical help because each night when I’d go to bed and lie down to sleep I’d start coughing and struggle to breath, so it was really affecting my sleep. My trigger was probably dust mites in my pillow that hadn’t been replaced for quite some time.
As a runner, I use my lungs quite a lot, so this was pretty shocking, but then I didn’t feel that I had any problems for the vast majority of the time. Just rarely, when I had an attack, or an exacerbation, as the medics call it, I would struggle to run the next day as my airways were sore from the inflammation. We discussed the possibility of exercise induced asthma, and other than when I had pushed really hard in a 2km erg test on the rowing machine, I didn’t recall any time when exercise and asthma-like symptoms were linked. Phew!
The process of diagnosis is very scientific. When I described symptoms that sounded like asthma, I was given 2 prescriptions – one of a drug in a blue inhaler, known as a reliever, that I was to take in case I had an attack, and one of a peak flow meter, which is a plastic device used to measure my lung capacity.
Over the course of 30 days, I was to measure my peak flow reading in the morning and in the evening, and if I felt an attack, I was to take my reliever inhaler. If there was more than a 10% variation in lung capacity, then I would be diagnosed with asthma.
The next step was to determine how severe. As I needed to take the blue reliever inhaler more than twice in a week, it was determined I would need other medication to control my symptoms. For this, I was given a brown inhaler that I would take morning and evening, alongside brushing my teeth. For me, this was the scariest part. An all round healthy person having to go onto long term medication. I really struggled to come to terms with this, and asked lots of questions, but ultimately the medication would give me the best quality of life. The risks of the medication are far far outweighed by the risks of having constantly inflamed airways –If your asthma is poorly managed, you could start to get scar tissue buildup in your lungs, reducing their capacity.
When I tell friends and family I have asthma, and they know me as someone who runs marathons all the time they’re surprised, but, as Local GP Dr. Stuart Rudge says, “The aim of asthma treatment is to have no symptoms”.
As a runner with asthma, how can we fulfil this aim? We tend to run year round in different climates and environments, so there can be all sorts of triggers for our asthma if we’re not careful. What can we do so that none of these triggers turn into an attack, especially when out running.
Jacqueline Rudge, who is an asthma nurse says that she always encourages exercise – good news for us runners. “Asthma shouldn’t stop you from doing anything you want to”, but she also warns not to run if the asthma isn’t under control. Paula Radcliffe and David Beckham are just a couple of elite athletes who have the condition. There really is no reason to let it stop you. But, there are times when it can, so here are some tips to help reduce that likelihood:
The sign of a good asthma management plan is that you aren’t aware of any limitations because of your asthma. When asthma is well managed, you don’t need to change your lifestyle because of it.
Thank you to Jacqueline Rudge, my asthma nurse, and Dr. Stuart Rudge who is a GP for their contribution to this article. If this has brought up questions for you about your asthma, or whether you might have asthma, please make an appointment with your local GP surgery.
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Angela Isherwood is the founder of I Run Success
She is a REPs Level 3 Personal Trainer, a Run England Running coach, and a multiple marathon runner. She is a London Marathon Good for Age runner, a Boston Marathon Qualifier, a parkrun Run Director and Trainer for Goodgym Colchester.