Puff, puff, OWWWWWWW
December 28, 2009 2:21 PM   Subscribe

All my life I've had this problem when doing any sort of cardio activity: my throat can stand my breathing for about 15 seconds before it starts to burn like hell. I've tried breathing differently, asking for medical advice, drinking various beverages before/during/after working out... nothing. It's happened when I've been in better shape and when I'm a lazy slob. So I avoid cardio, which I have always desperately needed. How can I overcome this and work out pain-free?

This proudly Amazonian fattie is joining the MeFi Fitness Challenge (hells yeah!) and must get a throat problem taken care of. I've seen this thread, among others, which lead me to think it might be some sort of exercise-induced asthma, but who knows.

Drinking water before or after the exercise doesn't really do much; neither does trying very hard to breathe through my nose instead of my mouth. I've brought it up with various doctors and fitness instructors, but nobody has given me even a hint of how to fix it.

I've historically also had respiratory problems (constantly running nose, infections like clockwork when the seasons change, strep throat loads of times when I was a kid), so I've considered having my tonsils out, but haven't had it done.

Because I work at the top of a large hill (and, in fact, DO walk uphill both ways when walking to/from work), having good cardiovascular health is important even if I don't lose weight/bulk. I've been avoiding it for the last six months, and even walking up it twice a day for four years has rarely made it any easier.

So are there things I can do to make running/elliptical/aerobic exercise less searingly awful? Are there particular exercises or activities that will promote good cardiovascular health while not making me breathe so hard? I feel like the slow recumbent bicycle gets me exactly nowhere.

Special consideration goes to stuff that won't make me bounce too much, as parts of me bounce enough already. Pounding joints = bad. (5'7", 240ish, top-heavy.)
posted by Madamina to Health & Fitness (16 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Consider the possibility of exercise-induced GERD. You can have GERD without heartburn pain, it can be induced by exercise, and it certainly can make your throat burn. Do antacids taken before and during exercise help any?
posted by Ery at 2:36 PM on December 28, 2009 [2 favorites]

Try water aerobics and/or swimming. You get a good workout, and it's not that pounding on the joints. And you can splash to Beyonce! (However, if it's in a chlorinated pool, that chlorine may aggravate your breathing issues.)

I'd also check with the doc to rule out exercise-induced asthma. My asthma has a weird presentation and I didn't get diagnosed for years, but once I did I could exercise much easier. I just take my inhaler before I exercise, and I'm fine throughout my workout.
posted by spinifex23 at 2:36 PM on December 28, 2009

Are you a smoker? Sounds like me when I would sprint up some stairs back when I was smoking
posted by phrakture at 2:41 PM on December 28, 2009

Does the severity of the pain change based on temperature and humidity?
posted by Faint of Butt at 2:44 PM on December 28, 2009

I've found that my throat burns when I exercise when the air is dry/cold. Does it hurt when you exercise inside?
posted by The Light Fantastic at 2:49 PM on December 28, 2009

Response by poster: Not a smoker; in fact, I'm actually a trained singer, so I probably have better breath control than a lot of people.

I do try to avoid dry, cold air, but yes, when I did regular exercise indoors (a Boot Camp class at a gym), it did still kill me.

Water aerobics is pretty good, but the class schedule is not always in sync with mine.

The GERD thing may have merit, as I have had some reflux in the past, but I have to be careful because antacids tend to lead to... other GI issues :P If I did something more regular/extended release (like Prilosec, which has worked okay for me) instead of something more immediate (like Rolaids), do you think that might help?
posted by Madamina at 2:56 PM on December 28, 2009

This happens to me sometimes when I'm out for a brisk walk, and I find that sucking on a piece of hard candy helps alleviate it because it keeps my mouth and throat from drying out.

(Note: As my finger hovered over the "post comment" button, I got worried that maybe this is bad advice because someone could conceivably choke on a piece of candy while exercising vigorously, so please be careful... But it really does work for me!)
posted by amyms at 2:58 PM on December 28, 2009

Seconding the GERD suggestion. Talk to your doctor, because it's possible that the reflux issues might be the result of an undiagnosed hiatal hernia.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:58 PM on December 28, 2009

If I did something more regular/extended release (like Prilosec, which has worked okay for me) instead of something more immediate (like Rolaids), do you think that might help?

It would be great if it would, wouldn't it? An OTC treatment like that might be an easy sort of thing to check to try to narrow down what the problem is. Being able to tell your doctor something that helps will make it easier for him or her to figure out what the problem is, and treat you for it.
posted by Ery at 3:23 PM on December 28, 2009

I have reflux and yeah, burning while exercising just like you describe does happen. Note that reflux causes GERD, they aren't interchangeable (I see this mistake on ask.me all the time). OTC stuff like rolaids don't do squat for reflux anyway (there's plenty of research around to back this up) and extended release stuff like PPIs or H2ras do help with exercising when reflux is the cause of the discomfort, so definitely bring this option up with your doctor. If you do have reflux, even just occasionally, it's worth treating so that it doesn't turn into GERD. Exercise-wise you'd need to avoid anything high impact or bouncy, which it sounds like you want to anyway, and I also find that swimming can trigger it due to the prone position (although medication takes care of that).

For me long distance walking has worked very well. Fast walking is about as effective as moderate jogging without the bouncing. I've walked as part of an exercise experiment and work in either the high fat burning/low cardio zone, depending on speed and slope. My main issue is keeping my speed up, it's easy to trail off and go slower, so I use music or a walking partner to help me maintain intensity.

Whatever you do, to start with I'd aim for fast enough to increase your heartrate but not your breathing (so you can feel you're working but can still carry on a conversation without panting), then slowly add speed and hills (or whatever) as your body adapts. Hopefully you can find a sweet spot between working your heart and your body but not spiking your breathing rate to trigger this reaction.
posted by shelleycat at 3:23 PM on December 28, 2009

Can you try chewing gum? I absolutely cannot stand running/cardio without chewing gum. It keeps my mouth moist and keeps the post nasal drippies from annoying me.

Of course, it's probably a choking hazard.
posted by 26.2 at 3:30 PM on December 28, 2009

How about taking an anti-histamine? Surprisingly enough, working out can actually release histamines and trigger alllergy-type reactions, and I'm wondering if nasal drip may be the culprit.
posted by katemcd at 3:53 PM on December 28, 2009

Is it possible you have a chronic sinus infection and the stuff is running down your throat when you exercise and making it hurt?
posted by fshgrl at 5:35 PM on December 28, 2009

I get the same thing when I run - breathing starts to hurt.

If the problem is simply breathing too hard, and not any particular medical condition, then the only real solution is to get in better shape so that you don't breathe as hard when you do exercise.

You've seen all those training zone charts at the gym talking about heart rate and fat-burning vs. aerobic vs. anaerobic training (along with all the wonderful products you can buy to hit the target zone)? Here's a simpler version:

Rest - heart is normal, breathing normal
2. Breathing is heavy, heart is a little fast (fat burning, aerobic)
3. You can hear yourself breathing, but can still talk (aerobic).
4. You're breathing too hard to talk (anaerobic).

Levels 3 & 4 are irritating for a lot of people, even athletes. If you hit this level, simply slow down until your breathing returns to level 2, then speed up again (interval training). Take it at your own pace, keep at it, and eventually you will be able to exercise longer and longer without hitting the painful zones.

Boot Camp? That sounds like it would hurt any which way you slice it!

Otherwise, staying hydrated throughout the day will help far more than drinking water before you exercise. Drinks with a little sugar and salt help you stay hydrated. For me, a very diluted sports drink works best (1/4 gatorade, 3/4 water).
posted by kanewai at 6:53 PM on December 28, 2009

You sound a lot like me. Things that have helped greatly: having my tonsils removed (took care of the constant strep and sinusitis), and using an inhaler before exercising. I would start by seeing your doctor (just a family doctor or GP or whatever, no need for a specialist) to talk about trying out an inhaler.
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:14 PM on December 28, 2009

Does it carry over after you're done? Can you just deal with it?

How able are you to breathe through your nose? Try doing that as much as possible, especially during warm-up to at least increase the duration you're capable of.
posted by cmoj at 10:44 AM on December 29, 2009

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