Coughing, congestion, stalled-out fitness gains—we asked an expert to ID the sneakier asthma symptoms you might be missing
A good workout should leave you out of breath. That’s just a fact. But there’s a difference between “oh, jeez, I’m going to die” panting and “no seriously, I’m going to pass out now” wheezing. And if you often feel like your chest is in a vice after a workout, you may be dealing with something more serious than post-workout huffing and puffing—like asthma.
Truth time: When we think about asthma, we think about kids. And, to be sure, the majority of asthma sufferers experience their first episode in childhood. But at least 5 percent don’t have a single symptom until they’re well out of their teens, research from the Netherlands shows. And women are especially at risk of developing asthma as an adult, probably as a result of the hormone fluctuations they experience throughout the month.
What’s more, asthma isn’t one of those conditions you either have or you don’t. It’s possible to only have symptoms when you exercise, or experience it for a finite time (like when you’re pregnant or during spring allergy season), says Purvi Parikh, M.D., an allergist and immunologist with Allergy & Asthma Network. “Up to 20 percent of non-asthmatic people have asthma when they exercise,” she notes. (It's one of the Strange Side Effects of Exercise.)
Another complication: The condition can cause symptoms beyond the ones you traditionally associate with asthma, like wheezing and shortness of breath, Parikh says. If you experience one or more of the sneaky symptoms that follow, consider seeking out an asthma specialist for diagnosis and treatment.
Coughing: The inflammation and constriction of your airways can be irritating, leading to dry hacking. “This is actually the most common sign that people miss,” says Parikh. You shouldn’t have to press pause on the treadmill to hack up a lung, or find yourself coughing for hours after a workout.
Frequent Injuries: Again, chalk it up to the stress you’re putting on your body by exercising without taking in enough oxygen, says Parikh. (Here, five other times You're More Prone to Sports Injuries.)
Overblown Fatigue: Sure, you’re going to feel tired after a long run. But if you feel need-a-nap exhausted for hours after 30 moderate-intensity minutes on the elliptical, take note, Parikh suggests. That’s a sign that you’re not getting enough oxygen in during your workout.
Stalled-out Gains: If you’re exercising regularly, you should be able to go a little longer or harder every week. So if you keep having to walk up the same hill toward the end of your run or tap out during spin, asthma may be to blame. “Exercise-induced asthma can make it difficult to gain endurance, since your body isn’t oxygenated adequately. Plus, it can stress your organs, like your heart, which tries to compensate,” says Parikh. (Psst—these 6 Foods Can Increase Your Endurance... Naturally!)
Thicker Snot (But No Cold): While doctors aren't completely sure what causes it (or what comes first—the asthma or the mucus), increased congestion and post-nasal drip is a common sign of asthma, says Parikh.