It's a frightening sensation to feel your chest tightening during exercise. You might feel as if you can't breathe properly, or you might feel pain in your windpipe or throat. Exercise-induced asthma could be causing your symptoms, and you can treat it easily through medication or self-help measures. But since other conditions can mimic exercise-induced asthma and cause chest tightness, you should see your doctor immediately to rule out other potential causes.
If you've never experienced this type of chest tightness during exercise before, and especially if you feel increasing pain or discomfort that seems to spread beyond your chest to your shoulders, arms or jaw, you should seek immediate medical assistance -- you may be having a heart attack. Other symptoms include sweating, shortness of breath, faintness and nausea. It's possible to confuse symptoms of a heart attack with those of exercise-induced asthma and many other conditions, so you shouldn't take a chance -- get help immediately.
Once your doctors have made certain you're not having a heart attack, you can explore other potential reasons for your chest tightness. A condition called gastroesophageal reflux disease -- commonly called heartburn or sometimes reflux -- can cause tightness or burning in your chest, especially during vigorous, high-impact forms of exercise such as running. If you have reflux, you may also experience a sour taste in your mouth and throat and even wheezing or coughing. If tests show you have gastroesophageal reflux disease, you may be able to prevent it from interfering with your exercise routine by limiting your meals before your workouts. In addition, your physician can prescribe medication to keep your heartburn in check.
The symptoms you'll experience with exercise-induced asthma closely resemble those both of a mild heart attack and of heartburn, which is why you need a physician to tell you which condition you have. When you have exercise-induced asthma, you'll probably begin wheezing about 10 to 15 minutes into your workout. Most people with exercise-induced asthma suffer more from the condition in very cold, dry conditions. If your doctor suspects asthma is causing your chest tightness, she may perform medical testing using a tool called a peak flow meter to confirm.
You may be able to control your exercise-induced asthma simply by avoiding heavy workouts in cold, dry conditions; instead of running outdoors during the winter, find a local indoor pool and swim instead. You also can try managing your symptoms by wearing a scarf around your nose and throat -- as you breathe through the scarf, the air you're breathing will heat up and carry more moisture, so it might not trigger an attack. If neither of those strategies works, ask your doctor to prescribe an inhaler. Used immediately before exercise, inhalers for exercise-induced asthma can successfully prevent symptoms.
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