Exercise Induced Asthma: Symptoms, Prevention, Treatments

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Exercise-induced asthma information

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Exercise-induced asthma is when the airways in the lungs narrow due to strenuous exercise. It causes shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing, and other symptoms during or after exercise.

When exercising hard by doing things like running, biking, or working out, you typically breathe more rapidly. That rapid breathing can make the airways in your lungs dry and irritated. As a result, the airways can narrow. This makes it harder to get air in and out of the lungs. Your chest might feel tight and it may be more difficult to catch your breath. This happens more frequently when exercising in cold, dry air or if there is a sudden change in temperature or humidity.

If exercising in the cold gives you trouble, there are preventive measures that can be taken.  Dressing in layers or wearing a scarf to warm your air may benefit you. But you could also have exercise-induced bronchospasm, or what is more commonly called exercise-induced asthma (EIA). Approximately 300 million people worldwide have exercise-induced asthma. Which means breathing problems brought on by exercise. Most people with asthma have EIA, but it’s also possible to experience EIA and not have asthma.

What are the Symptoms Of EIA?

  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing
  • Coughing
  • Trouble catching your breath
  • Tight chest
  • Unusual fatigue while exercising
  • chest pain (rare)

If you have EIA, you tend to have trouble breathing 5 to 20 minutes after exercise.

How to Prevent or Manage exercise-induced asthma:

  1. Don’t exercise in cold, dry environments.
  2. Breathe through the nose to warm and moisten the air. This can be done with a face mask or scarf. It helps trap moisture and keep the air warmer.
  3. Use medication before you exercise, such as short-acting Albuterol.
  4. Warm up and cool down with exercise at least 5-15 minutes before and after the activity.
  5. Avoid strenuous activities if peak flow is within a certain range, as determined by your allergist.
  6. Avoid running or strenuous activity when you have an infection, low temperatures or pollen, and air pollution is high.

 Why Does Exercise Trigger Asthma?

When air passes through your nose, it is warmed and dampened before it reaches your airways, like a humidifier. When you exercise, you tend to breathe through your mouth instead of your nose. When this happens, colder drier air is going directly into your airways. This can trigger an asthma attack.

It only takes five minutes of exercise to start seeing symptoms. If this happens, your asthma is not under control.

How to Help Control Exercise-Induced Asthma?

  • Take your asthma medication before exercising as prescribed by your doctor. This may include a quick-relief medication and/or an inhaler 15 to 30 minutes before the activity. Refer to your Asthma Action Plan.
  • Be aware of poor air quality. This can include smog alerts, smoke from fires, extra warm, extra humid, or high pollen count days. You may want to avoid outdoor exercise on those days.
  • Use a face mask or scarf when it’s cold to help trap moisture and warm air for re-breathing. Cold, dry air can be hard on asthmatic airways.
  • Wear a dust mask during allergy season and high pollen days.
  • Warm-up first before exercising. Use the light aerobic activity to slowly build-up prior to exercising and to cool down after finishing. When you step up your strenuous sports, be reasonable. As your cardiovascular and respiratory levels increase, so will the demands you place on them.
  • Make exercise part of your daily routine for at least a half-hour a day, five days a week.
  • Don’t exercise if your asthma is unstable or your peak flow is in the yellow or red zones.

Contact our office if your asthma symptoms are not controlled. Keep track of the exercise and symptoms to help our doctors manage your condition.

People with exercise-induced bronchoconstriction should be able to continue to exercise and remain active by treating the symptoms with common asthma medications and taking preventive measures as described in your asthma action plan.


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