Asthma: can swimming help?

Having asthma doesn’t mean you should avoid exercise. A healthy lifestyle and keeping fit are important factors in managing your asthma effectively. If you are fit, you could have fewer asthma attacks.

Why is swimming a good exercise for people with asthma?

Swimming can be a great exercise for people with asthma as you breathe in warm, moist air rather than the cold, dry air that can lead to asthma symptoms. Swimming can also help you develop good breathing practices.

Exercising in water suits many older people, as no stress is placed on weight-bearing joints such as the knees.

Will exercise trigger an asthma attack?

Exercise is a trigger for many people with asthma: at least 50 per cent of people with asthma who use inhaled corticosteroid medicines find that exercise can bring on asthma symptoms. However, being fit can reduce the frequency of exercise-induced asthma, and a good warm up can also help to prevent symptoms during exercise.

If you experience asthma symptoms while swimming or during another type of exercise, you should:

  • stop the exercise and rest;
  • take 4 separate puffs of your reliever medication; and
  • not continue with the exercise until you can breathe comfortably and have no asthma symptoms.

If symptoms do not settle, or return again when you resume swimming (or another exercise), you may need emergency first aid treatment for your asthma symptoms, so you should follow the 4 x 4 x 4 Plan:

  • take 4 puffs of your reliever, one puff at a time, with 4 breaths after each puff;
  • wait 4 minutes, and if no improvement, take 4 puffs again;
  • if still no or little improvement, call an ambulance immediately, and continue with the 4 puffs every 4 minutes until help arrives.

For adults, up to 8 puffs of reliever every 5 minutes can be given for a severe asthma attack, while waiting for the ambulance.

How your doctor can help

Always talk to your doctor before undertaking a new exercise programme. Your doctor can help you with a written asthma management plan and evaluate your medicines and symptoms in the long-term.

To help assess your lung function and determine which medicines are best for you, your doctor may suggest you have lung function tests (spirometry).

Your doctor may prescribe medicines to prevent asthma symptoms from appearing while you’re exercising.

Inhaled corticosteroids (preventers) can reduce the severity of exercise-induced asthma; however, they take 2-3 months to have their full effect. You will therefore probably need other medicines during this period, and possibly on an ongoing basis — your doctor may prescribe various medicines including long-acting beta2 agonists (symptom controllers) or short-acting beta2 agonists (relievers; taken just before exercising).

Symptom controllers and corticosteroid preventers are often given together in a combination inhaler.

In some mild cases of exercise-induced asthma, symptom controllers and/or relievers are given without preventers.

If you exercise often during the day you may be prescribed a preventer medicine such as montelukast (Singulair), zafirlukast (Accolate), nedocromil (Tilade) or sodium cromoglycate (Intal, Intal Forte).

Will chlorine in pools affect my asthma?

Chlorine in swimming pools can trigger and aggravate asthma symptoms. If you experience irritation in the pool, talk to your doctor about prevention and more effective management of your asthma.

Swimming is a great way to relax, and to have fun. Remember, SCUBA diving is not recommended for people with asthma, but snorkelling is a good alternative.


 
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