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Published on September 07, 2017

Riley Schaap

Treatment for Exercise-Induced Asthma Helps Collegiate Runner Pursue His Passion

Every athlete feels short of breath from time to time. But how do you know when it’s a symptom of something more serious?

For Riley Schaap, an avid runner and member of the Dordt College cross country team, it took a fainting spell before he realized he had exercise-induced asthma. Thankfully, pulmonologist Anthony Hericks, DO, and his team at Avera Medical Group Pulmonology & Sleep Medicine were able to create a treatment plan that allows Riley to manage his condition so that he can continue to pursue his passion for the sport of running.

Running Short on Breath

Riley first noticed symptoms – including chest pain and shortness of breath – when he started cross country in middle school. His symptoms worsened during challenging workouts such as high intensity intervals, hills and competitions. Like many athletes do, he pushed through the pain – even to the point of experiencing dizziness and tunnel vision.

After one particularly scary instance, which required an ambulance ride to the emergency room, he was diagnosed with exercise-induced bronchoconstriction, more commonly known as exercise-induced asthma.

Since then, Hericks’ team has worked with Riley to find just the right treatment plan. Because of the amount of miles that Riley runs – sometimes 10 miles a day – his treatment is similar to a typical case of asthma. He takes medication daily and uses an inhaler as needed before and after each competition. With his symptoms now under control, Riley can focus on reaching his goals.

Do It!

When asked what exercise advice he has for others with exercise-induced asthma, “Do it!” was his immediate and enthusiastic response. “For some crazy reason, I enjoy the sport. With the right treatment, some care and being gritty, you can do it.”

Symptoms of Exercise-Induced Asthma

According to Hericks, up to 20 percent of the general population and 70 percent of elite athletes have exercise-induced asthma. One common misconception is that it’s caused by exercise, when in fact exercise is just the trigger.

“It’s caused by cold air,” says Hericks. “Normally, you breathe through your nose which acts as a heater and humidifier. When you exercise your airways dilate and open up allowing you to breathe a little better. In asthmatic patients, however, the cold air comes in and irritates the airway which is why symptoms start to occur about 15-30 minutes into exercise.”

Symptoms of exercise-induced asthma include:

  • Chest pain or tightness
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing or whistling sound with breathing

If you experience these symptoms while exercising, be sure to talk about it with your provider. If you’re severely limited in your physical activity because of asthma, see a pulmonologist, who specializes in treating conditions related to the airways and lungs.

Staying Active with Asthma

It may sound counterintuitive, but with the right treatment and monitoring, exercise can actually play a role in helping you feel better.

“If you have exercise-induced asthma, you can live a normal, active life. You don’t have to let it control your ability to live the kind of life you want,” encourages Hericks. “In fact, getting in better shape can help reduce your symptoms. Exercise is the most important thing you can do for overall health.”

If you or a loved one has exercise-induced asthma, Hericks recommends adding these tips to your workout routine:

  • Do a long, slow warm-up before your workout.
  • Exercise inside when possible. Working out in a warm, humid environment, such as a pool, may help reduce symptoms too. If you enjoy exercising outside, aim for a time when allergen counts are low.
  • Listen to your body and know your limitations.
  • Use your medication as prescribed by your provider. For people with asthma, this typically includes an inhaler 15-20 minutes before and during activity, as needed.

Learn more about respiratory and pulmonary care at Avera.

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