Exercising with Eczema and Asthma

running-shoes-many-pairs-colorfulI like to exercise.  I also have both eczema and asthma.  I don’t talk a lot about asthma on this blog, mainly because it’s quite well controlled (thankfully) and doesn’t impact my daily life like eczema does, but many people, like me, are in the same boat with the “atopic triad” of allergies, asthma, and eczema.  So this post is my take and my musings on exercising with both of these conditions.

ASTHMA:

I have been on Singulair for about 10 years.  I just take one pill every evening, and I’m generally able to exercise and do whatever I want, wherever I want.  I do have a rescue inhaler (ProAir), but I barely need to use it.  My asthma, though, if it comes on, is usually exercise-induced.  There are three instances in where I will get short of breath and feel my asthma start to affect me:

  • If it is very hot and humid out.  This doesn’t happen much in the upper Midwest here, but when it does, this will actually make me SUPER short of breath.  I have woken up (rarely) during a hot summer morning barely able to breathe and grasping around frantically for my rescue inhaler.  This is also where I have an audible whistling wheeze when breathing, because my airway is just so narrowed.  During these infrequent situations, exercise is completely out of the question, as I get winded just existing and schlepping  around the house.
  • If I am exercising hard in very cold weather.
  • If I have started to exercise reasonably hard without a warm-up.

If you are reading this blog and you’re a non-asthma sufferer, here is an approximation of what it feels like to have asthma.  Take a big breath.  Really big.  As big as you can.  Go on, try it!  Did you do it?  Holding your breath?  Good.  Now try to take another breath on top of that one.  Feel how uncomfortable it is to try and suck down more air?  Of course, that would simulate REALLY BAD asthma, so to simulate more mild asthma, take like half a big breath.  It’s still an uneasy feeling to know you can’t get a full amount of air into your lungs.

My advice to other exercising asthma sufferers: DO NOT UNDERESTIMATE the power of the warm-up.  I am an impatient person when it comes to exercise.  I want to go out and do it, get it done, feel accomplished, and move on with my day.  I want to launch into high energy activities like running and kickboxing FULL TILT.  I do not like to warm up!  But, I know that I will often start to get that uncomfortable feeling, maybe even start to wheeze a little.  It is so much better if I ease into it gradually, or if I do a warm-up for 5-10 minutes first.  Cooling down is also a good idea.

Also be aware that having asthma can make you tired during exercise.  Even if you are not actively wheezing or feel short of breath, your airways might still feel compromised and the respiratory muscles of a person with asthma have to work harder to get that air in.   Sure, I have had days where I had to cut my exercise short because of this, and felt very disappointed.  However, I have kept at it and been able to build up my cardiovascular fitness and do lots of fun exercise-y things, like a 2 hour kickboxing jam, a 60 mile bike ride, and a full marathon.

ECZEMA:

No matter what your state of eczema or how uncomfortable your skin, I am a firm believer that exercise is always good for you.  The release of stress, the increase in circulation, the psychological benefit to your self-esteem and well-being – all excellent.  It doesn’t even have to be hard exercise where you sweat, as sweat can irritate eczema.  Walking, light yoga, and weight training are all good choices that are not extremely sweaty activities.

For me, I don’t generally get too itchy DURING activity – the exercise itself is usually enough of a distraction.  But, when exercise is over, if I am really sweaty and let the sweat sit on my body (i.e., if I don’t get to shower immediately after), or have been wearing clothing tight to the body that holds the sweat in, I can start to get itchy.

However, this can be a double-edged sword.  Although theoretically I should be wearing very light, loose, minimal clothing so that the sweat won’t get trapped, sometimes I simply cannot wear shorts without feeling self-conscious, if I have rashes and am in a public place like a gym.  Tank tops are usually no problem as my arms are often okay, but my legs have been one of my worst rash sites for years.  Even when they are rash-free, I have lots of scars from scratching.  I belonged to a large gym in the past, where there were rows and rows of treadmills, and I could kind of hide away in a corner treadmill with minimal worry that people could see that I had eczema.  Here, I would run in running shorts, but as soon as I was done, I would put on athletic pants and THEN be able to walk back to the weight-lifting floor or back out of the gym feeling covered up and secure.

Another option if you want to get really sweaty and get a great workout, but don’t want to worry about feeling on display, are group fitness classes.  Depending on the gym (and this held true for the one I went to), the classes are often held in semi-darkness with dim lighting.  Also, I guarantee people aren’t checking out your skin… they’re too busy concentrating on their own moves during the class.  I would go and take a spot near the back row, bring a long sleeved tech shirt and/or pants with me, exercise in shorts, etc., and then put on the covering-up clothing before I walked out of the studio door into the bright lighting.  I’m actually considering going back to this gym – I haven’t belonged to it for months just ’cause I have had a bad bout of feeling very self conscious, eczema-wise, and also I’ve been simply exercising outside which is free.  I also want to go back to the gym as I would like to become more regular about doing yoga – I think the calming meditative aspect of it might benefit my eczema in situations where I scratch simply out of habit and/or stress.

Home exercise also must not be underestimated.  I will be frank that I get kind of lazy and unfocused if all I have is an exercise DVD.  I find it hard to get the motivation to do it, since there are always other things I could be doing around the house.  I would much rather exercise outside if I can.  But, I have been using some P90x on DVD here and there, and it is nice to be able to wear whatever I want and not have to worry about anyone seeing, since I’m in the privacy of my own home.

What are your experiences exercising with eczema and/or asthma?  Are there any activities you avoid?  What are your favorite ways to exercise?

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8 thoughts on “Exercising with Eczema and Asthma

  1. Amanda says:

    Glad you posted about this! And it’s so awesome that you have so much endurance and love to be active! I’m on the same meds as you for asthma — I add in Flovent during spring and fall because of pollen. Exercise doesn’t actually bother my asthma surprisingly (unless I’m running outside during spring or fall).

    Eczema is much harder for me — because it’s the worst on my feet! So no matter what my intentions, sometimes I simply cannot exercise because of it because I don’t have full range of motion with my feet because all scratched up and swollen and itchy. I still am sometimes able to ride my bike because it doesn’t put my pressure on my feet …. yoga makes me nervous too, a) because I don’t want people to see my feet and b) because I don’t want my skin with open cuts to get exposed to any germs. I do want to get some of those yoga toe socks so I don’t have to use this as an excuse though.

    • Oh my goodness, I do remember you mentioning having to put steroid cream on your feet and then wrap them in Saran for the eczema! It is still great that you have run races even with eczema on your feet! That is a very aggravating spot to have eczema with having to be reminded of it every time you want to take a step. I know you’ve said now that it is the ONLY place you have eczema, so I really hope that it is eventually able to clear up for good and not limit you in what exercise you want to do.

      Bike riding is awesome and I can definitely see what you mean about yoga. Even though I always wipe down/disinfect my yoga mat, it’s not the most hygienic thing to be barefoot in a public place like that, esp with open wounds. I have never used the socks but they look really cool. My feet sweat like crazy whenever I do yoga (gross, not sure why) and then they slip on the mat a little, so I should look into the socks as well!

  2. Rob Pollak says:

    I have psoriasis and used to not even go to the gym because I was embarrassed about my skin. I’ve found that since I started yoga, my skin has fared much better. It took me a bit to get over the idea of people seeing it, but if you do a hard yoga class, it’s pretty hard to focus on anything other than your breathing, so it’s never as bad as I think it will be. And people tend to be really open.

    • Hi Rob! Thanks for your insight and stopping by my blog. I’m really glad to hear that yoga worked well to help your skin. And in reading your blog, it’s awesome that you kept at it and now were able to progress to hard poses… I admire that diligence!

  3. When I was a student in a warm part of Australia, I suffered from bad eczema on my face. I’ve always been an athlete, a runner, and in those bad times a run would leave me looking as though I’d put my face in a jet of steam. Not pleasant but since I couldn’t hide my face I had a choice of stop running or look odd. Luckily for me, it’s deemed OK for a young man to look odd so I continued running – I’m advised young ladies don’t have such an easy choice!

    As my knowledge of pathology and disease progression advanced, I found a clue which allowed me to help my skin fix itself. No more eczema for Harley. Thirty years later, that clue has become the EXeczema Programme of which I know you are familiar. To help provide an understanding of what is going on in an eczema patch during and after exercise, I ask you to look at two points in your post: “… sweat can irritate eczema.” and “… let the sweat sit on my body…”

    Was it the sweat you were reacting to or the skincare products on your skin which had been suspended in the warm sweat? If it was sweat alone, you should have been red all over as you will have sweated all over, whereas I’d guess your exercise-induced eczema was restricted to the your established eczema patches. The second important clue is that you point out you don’t develop active eczema if you immediately wash the sweat – and whatever is suspended in it – off in the shower.

    Your excellent points have prompted my next post: Exercise and eczema. Thank you for once again reminding me how many useful answers have arisen over my decades of asking hard questions about eczema.

    • Hi Dr. Farmer! Thank you for your valuable insight as a fellow runner and also a medical professional. It is so true that it is harder for ladies to look “odd” with eczema. The pressure to cover it up and to have ‘perfect skin’ is very strong!

      I HAVE gotten red and a little itchy all over after exercising, but I think it is usually worse on the parts with eczema. I went for a run in the cold the other night with mittens on, and when my hands began to sweat, it was indeed worse on the parts with eczema, the parts that i had put product on. It was also more itchy on my legs (quite afflicted with eczema right now), whereas, say, my torso (pretty eczema-free) sweated a bit but had minimal itch. It’s a good insight that it could have been skincare products that I was reacting to.

      I will look forward to seeing your next post and YOUR take on exercise with eczema!

  4. smes9 says:

    A while ago I was running too fast and could only run for about 20 minutes (with a few stops) and then Id have to give up and walk home – desperate for breath. Id be so short of breath that my head would shake at the end – where you are trying to get some air into your lungs. I wasnt scared or anything though as I knew that I would be home soon and take my ventolin n then I would be fine. I started running slower and that was much much easier, especially on my chest.

    • 20 minutes is still not a bad start in the least! When I got back into running I could only do 5 minutes before getting tired…. doing a run/walk/run alternating thing worked well for me and my asthma. Thanks for sharing your own experience!

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