Cold Weather Exercise Tips for Asthma Sufferers

Reporter: Shannon Samson

This cold air makes it difficult for anyone to be outside...especially those suffering from asthma.

There are some precautions they can take to prevent an attack before doing any type of physical activity like skiing, skating or exercising. Evansville doctor Suzanne Wilson exercises five days a week, but in the winter, she stays inside for her aerobic workouts. She's had one too many exercise-induced asthma attacks in the past. "I'd be out there and I just could not breath and I would cough out the wazoo and I thought, 'What's going on?' and nobody else was and I was in better shape than the majority of the people."

Allergist Dr. Anne McLaughlin says, "Inhaling cold air can be a trigger for asthma itself. In addition to that, exercising in cold air can be a trigger as well and dry air which is what we see a lot of in this area, can really be a trigger for asthma."

What happens is immune cells pour out chemicals like histamine that cause muscles wrapped around the bronchial tubes to squeeze down. At the same time, the cells lining the tubes swell and pump out thick layers of mucus. In a matter of moments, the airway can be drastically narrowed and the lungs starved for oxygen.

Dr. McLaughlin says asthmatics don't have to stop exercising altogether in the cold weather, but she says they should dress in layers and try covering their faces to keep from breathing in the dry air. Plus, "Sometimes using medicine 15 minutes before you exercise can make a big difference."

Dr. Wilson takes an Albuterol inhaler a half hour before she exercises outdoors. "The other key factor is you have to warm up. People suddenly want to go out and 'Let's run five miles!'. You don't do that." But you do stay active, which wards off disease and in her case, improves her asthma symptoms.

For more information about controlling asthma in cold weather, go to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology's website.

Other news on the asthma front is the recent Food and Drug Administration approval of the drug Xolair. It's revolutionary in the fact that it reduces IGE, the molecule that is responsible for allergic reactions that trigger asthma attacks. Xolair reduces the need for oral steroids, which can have several negative side effects. The only problem is that one injection of Xolair is a thousand dollars and some patients need it twice a month. So obviously, no one can be on it who doesn't have insurance.