Exercise-induced asthma is a condition in which one’s airway constricts in response to exercise, particularly in response to exercise in cold, dry air. Those with exercise-induced asthma suffer from wheezing, coughing, chest tightness, and shortness of breath. It turns out that most people with exercise-induced asthma also suffer from airway constriction in response to other triggers (allergies, infections, etc.). The exact mechanism by which exercise causes airway constriction has not been fully discovered, but many pieces of this puzzle have been put together. In our bodies, we have immune cells that participate in inflammatory processes (in this case: airway constriction) in response to certain triggers. It is theorized that during exercise, the airway cooling and drying upon inhalation of cold, dry air and subsequent rewarming is what causes inflammation in asthmatics. This results in the release of inflammatory molecules from immune cells that cause the muscle in the airway to contract.
There are a few different ways to diagnose this condition. An effective way of doing so is a physical challenge test in which the subject performs their workout of choice and subsequent measures of how much air they can force out of their lungs in one second dictate whether or not they are an exercise-induced asthmatic. This is useful because the pre-exercise measure of exhaled air from the lungs will dramatically decrease in a subject whose airway constricts in response to exercise. Other diagnostic tests in which chemicals are used to induce airway constriction are not as specific to exercise-induced asthma, but they do show clinicians how reactive their patient’s airway is. Inhaled corticosteroids are used as a long-term treatment to reduce inflammation of the airway. Asthma is a chronic condition that must be managed by the patient and his/her doctor but cannot yet be cured.
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