Exercise induced asthma, though seemingly well-controlled with an inhaler, can be deadly.
This is why, if you’ve been diagnosed with EIA, you should never think, “Oops, forgot my inhaler; well, I could do without it this one time.”
Can Exercise Induced Asthma Be Fatal?
“Yes, although very rare, cases have been reported,” says Angel Coz, MD, FCCP, board certified pulmonologist, Associate Professor of Medicine, University of Kentucky, Lexington Veterans Affairs Medical Center.
“The best approach for EIA is to prevent the onset of symptoms with the use of an asthma inhaler prior to exercise.
“When symptoms present during exercise, it is important to stop exercise and provide immediately the asthma rescue inhaler (short acting beta 2 agonist).
“If not treated, symptoms can progress to severe status asthmaticus and even death.”
Severe Status Asthmaticus Defined
This is another name for a severe asthma attack that does not respond to inhalers or the hormone epinephrine given under the skin.
It’s as much a medical emergency as is a heart attack, and can occur to an athlete who, despite having been diagnosed with exercise induced asthma, is working out without an inhaler.
Even if the diagnosis is that of mild or moderate, an athlete or a person working out for fitness may die from an untreated episode of exercise induced asthma.
This doesn’t mean that a diagnosis of asthma means you shouldn’t work out or should avoid strenuous activity.
It just means that you should not exercise without your inhaler nearby, preferably on you.
If you fear dying from an asthma attack triggered by exercise, then make the plan of immediately ceasing activity at the first sign of symptoms.
Next, immediately use your inhaler. Do not wait out the situation.
There is no data on what the average wait time, for using their inhaler, was for the athletes and exercisers who died from an asthma attack.
Perhaps most delayed the use because they had to complete those last few reps with a barbell, or had to make that hoop shot.
Ceasing activity immediately means IMMEDIATELY. Forget the set or game.
Dr. Coz is a pulmonary and critical care specialist at the Lexington Veterans Affairs Medical Center. He has a special interest in sepsis resuscitation and medical education.
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer.