Cold winter weather can make exercise more difficult. This is especially true for people with asthma. It’s estimated that 300 million people worldwide are living with asthma, according to the World Health Organization. At least 15 to 25 percent of athletes have asthma symptoms but haven’t been diagnosed with the disorder. However, it’s not only asthmatics who have increased difficulty with winter sports.
Exercising in the Winter
Typically, people breathe through their nose, which allows the air to be warmed and humidified before reaching the lungs. When exercising, people are more likely to breathe through their mouths due to the increased need for oxygen. This means cold, dry air reaches the lungs more quickly, which can cause irritation and make it more difficult to breathe. Breathing through the mouth also means that air isn’t filtered by cilia in the nose before reaching the lungs, so there may be a higher level of pollen or other pollutants.
Whether or not a person has a diagnosed case of exercise-induced asthma, their athletic performance may be hindered by exercise-induced bronchoconstriction (EIB). Within five to twenty minutes of exercising, people with EIB experience asthma symptoms like wheezing, chest tightness and shortness of breath.
Diagnosis and Treatment
It’s common for athletes to feel that they need to push through the pain but breathing problems can be serious. It’s best to consult a doctor as soon as symptoms present. Whether you exercise outdoors for pleasure or competition, it’s possible to keep symptoms under control so you can still enjoy your winter workouts. A medical professional can help formulate a plan to manage the symptoms. This may include the use of an inhaler.
For your own safety, here are a few steps to take during winter workouts if you’re prone to breathing difficulties:
- Always have access to a phone in case of respiratory distress. A great alternative would be to exercise with a friend, so you have support in the event of an emergency.
- Protect your airway by covering your nose and mouth with a scarf or mask during outdoor exercise. This increases the level of moisture in the air you breathe in.
- Opt for indoor exercise if symptoms persist. It may also help to make outdoor exercises shorter and less vigorous.
- Report any symptom changes to your doctor.