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Exercise Induced Asthma: How to Recognize and Manage Symptoms

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Exercise Induced AsthmaAsthma is a chronic condition that affects the airways of the lungs. Since the muscles contracting around the airways can cause difficulty breathing, those with asthma can experience symptoms like wheezing, coughing, chest tightness, and shortness of breath.

Exercise induced asthma is a specific type of asthma which is brought on by physical activity. Approximately 15% of the global population suffers from asthma, and in about 90% of cases involving those with asthma, symptoms can be triggered by exercise.

The purpose of this article is to provide an in-depth understanding of exercise induced asthma. We will cover the definition, causes, symptoms, impact on physical activities, preventive measures, medical treatments, and frequently asked questions related to living with this condition. The goal is to help readers identify, manage, and minimize the effects of exercise induced asthma.

What is Exercise Induced Asthma?

Exercise induced asthma, also known as exercise-induced bronchospasm, is a temporary narrowing of the airways that occurs during or after vigorous exercise. It is caused by physical exertion and differs from traditional asthma in that it does not involve chronic airway inflammation.

Instead, exercise induced asthma is triggered by the increased breathing and heart rate that occurs with strenuous exercise or activity. This increased breathing brings in more air through the mouth and nose, which is colder and drier than normal. The cold, dry air irritates and dehydrates the airways, causing them to tighten up and make breathing more difficult. The airways narrow and swell due to bronchoconstriction, or tightening of the muscles around the airways. This makes it harder to breathe and causes symptoms like wheezing, coughing, and shortness of breath.

While exercise can trigger asthma symptoms in anyone, people with underlying asthma are more prone to experiencing exercise induced asthma. The vigorous breathing during exercise essentially exacerbates their existing hyperresponsive airways. But for some, exercise and activity are the only triggers, and they don’t experience chronic asthma symptoms otherwise.

In summary, exercise induced asthma is a form of temporary bronchoconstriction induced specifically by strenuous physical exertion and increased breathing. Understanding the ways it differs from chronic asthma can help in diagnosis and management.

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Causes of Exercise Induced Asthma

Exercise induced asthma is often triggered by specific factors that cause the airways to narrow during exercise. The most common causes include:

Dehydration- Exercising without proper hydration can thicken mucus in the airways, making breathing more difficult. Dehydration restricts airflow which can trigger asthma symptoms. Staying well hydrated before, during and after exercise can help reduce asthma flare ups.

Breathing Cold, Dry Air- Cold, dry air is a common asthma trigger. Breathing in cold, dry air can cause the airways to constrict and become inflamed. Wearing a face mask or scarf over the nose and mouth can help warm up and humidify the air before breathing it into the lungs. Exercising indoors or moving exercise time to warmer weather can also help.

Environmental Allergens – Outdoor allergens like pollen and indoor allergens like dust mites can trigger asthma symptoms during exercise. Allergens cause inflammation and sensitivity in the airways. Reducing exposure to known allergen triggers and taking allergy medication before exercise can help control symptoms.

Airway Inflammation– Asthma causes swelling and inflammation of the airways. Exercise further exacerbates this inflammation, causing narrowing of the airways. Controlling baseline airway inflammation with maintenance inhalers can prevent exercise from triggering asthma symptoms.

Symptoms of Exercise Induced Asthma

The most common symptoms of exercise induced asthma include:

Coughing – One of the hallmark signs of exercise induced asthma is coughing that gets worse 5-10 minutes after stopping exercise. The coughing is often dry and persistent, and is the result of increased mucus production and airway inflammation.

Wheezing – Audible wheezing or whistling sounds when breathing out are another telltale symptom. Wheezing occurs when the airways narrow, making it difficult for air to move in and out freely. The wheezing tends to peak 5-20 minutes after exercise.

Chest tightness – Individuals with exercise induced asthma often describe feeling chest tightness or chest pain, sometimes referred to as chest congestion. This uncomfortable sensation is caused by constricted, irritated airways.

Shortness of breath – Difficulty breathing and shortness of breath commonly occur during and after exercise in people with EIA. This is caused by narrowed airways limiting air intake. The shortness of breath will worsen for up to 30 minutes after stopping exercise before improving. In some cases, breathing difficulties can be severe and greatly impact activity levels.

Recognizing these characteristic symptoms of coughing, wheezing, chest tightness, and shortness of breath is key to getting properly diagnosed and treated for exercise induced asthma. Keeping symptoms under control is crucial for maintaining an active lifestyle.

Impact on Physical Activities

Exercise-induced asthma can have a significant impact on a person’s ability to participate in physical activities and sports. The symptoms of wheezing, coughing, chest tightness, and shortness of breath can make exercising and playing sports more difficult.

Many people with exercise-induced asthma experience difficulty breathing during activities that require continuous physical exertion, such as long-distance running, basketball, hockey, or soccer. The increased breathing rate during these activities can trigger asthma symptoms. As a result, a person’s performance may suffer as they have to slow down or take breaks to use their inhaler.

In some cases, people with exercise-induced asthma may avoid participating in certain activities or sports altogether because they are concerned about having asthma symptoms. For example, some may avoid winter sports like ice skating or skiing because the cold, dry air commonly exacerbates asthma. Others may avoid gym class or running due to a history of wheezing and coughing when active. This avoidance of physical activity can negatively impact a person’s health and social life.

With proper management, most people with exercise-induced asthma can participate fully in physical activities and sports. But the condition does require some lifestyle adjustments and vigilance. Working closely with one’s doctor to create an appropriate treatment plan is key to minimizing the impact of exercise-induced asthma.

Preventive Measures For Exercise-induced asthma

There are several steps you can take to prevent asthma symptoms triggered by exercise:

**Warm Up and Cool Down**

Take 5-10 minutes to warm up before vigorous exercise and cool down afterwards. This allows your breathing and heart rate to gradually adjust to the change in activity level. Avoid sudden bursts of activity.

**Stay Hydrated**

Drink plenty of fluids before, during and after exercise. Dehydration can exacerbate asthma symptoms.

**Breathe Through Your Nose**

Breathe through your nose as much as possible when exercising. This warms and humidifies the air before it reaches your lungs.

**Exercise Indoors**

On high pollen count days or in cold weather, consider exercising indoors to avoid triggers like pollen and cold, dry air. An indoor gym or recreation center may be better than running outdoors.

**Use a Scarf or Mask**

In cold weather, cover your nose and mouth with a scarf or mask to warm and humidify the air you breathe.

Taking these preventive steps can reduce asthma symptoms during aerobic activities. However, if symptoms persist, medical treatments may be necessary.

Medical Treatments

There are several medications that can be used to prevent and treat exercise induced asthma symptoms:

**Inhaled Corticosteroids**

Inhaled corticosteroids such as beclomethasone, budesonide, ciclesonide, fluticasone, and mometasone are often prescribed as maintenance medications for exercise induced asthma. These medications help reduce airway inflammation and hyperresponsiveness. They are taken daily on a regular basis to control symptoms and prevent asthma episodes triggered by exercise.

**Leukotriene Modifiers**

Medications like montelukast, zafirlukast, and zileuton block the effects of leukotrienes, which are chemicals that can cause airway inflammation. Leukotriene modifiers may be used daily as maintenance treatment or intermittently before exercise. They help prevent asthma symptoms caused by physical activity.


Bronchodilators like short-acting beta agonists (albuterol, levalbuterol) quickly open up the airways and provide fast relief from exercise induced asthma symptoms. These quick-relief inhalers can be used prior to exercise to prevent symptoms. Longer acting bronchodilators like salmeterol and formoterol may also help control asthma symptoms during exercise.

**Allergy Medications**

If exercise induced asthma is triggered by allergies, medications like antihistamines and nasal corticosteroid sprays may be helpful. Controlling allergy symptoms and reducing airway inflammation can decrease the risk of asthma episodes related to exercise.

Using medications as prescribed under medical supervision is important for controlling asthma and minimizing asthma symptoms during physical activity. A combination of maintenance medications and quick-relief bronchodilators before exercise is often the most effective approach.

Living with Exercise Induced Asthma

Exercise induced asthma can significantly impact your quality of life and ability to stay active. Here are some tips for managing your symptoms:

Tips for Managing Symptoms

– Take medication as prescribed by your doctor before exercise or physical activity. This can help prevent symptoms from developing.

– Warm up adequately before exercise and cool down afterwards. This allows your breathing to gradually adjust.

– Exercise with a friend or partner who knows you have exercise induced asthma. They can help if you experience symptoms.

– Avoid exercising in extremely cold, dry weather which can trigger symptoms.

– Use a mask or scarf over your nose and mouth in cold weather to help humidify and warm the air.

– Stop activity immediately if you experience asthma symptoms and follow your doctor’s advice for treating an attack.

Working with Your Doctor

– Inform your doctor about any symptoms you experience with exercise. Keeping them updated will help determine the best treatment.

– Discuss your fitness goals and activities with your doctor. They can provide guidance on managing your asthma while staying active.

– Ask about preventive medicines you can use prior to exercise to reduce the risk of symptoms.

– Have an action plan from your doctor for handling asthma attacks if they occur during or after activity.

Lifestyle Changes

– Stay well hydrated, especially during and after exercise. Dehydration can worsen asthma symptoms.

– Stick to activities you can do at your own pace, like walking, swimming or biking. Intense exercise may trigger symptoms.

– Experiment to find out which activities cause you the least issues. Stick to those physical activities whenever possible.

– Exercise with a partner or group so you have support available if symptoms arise.

– Listen to your body and stop if you feel any onset of asthma symptoms. Pushing through will likely make them worse.

– Learn breathing exercises and techniques to help calm symptoms when they start.

With the right precautions and treatment, you can find ways to stay physically active with exercise induced asthma. Work closely with your healthcare provider and be diligent about managing your condition.

FAQs on Exercise Induced Asthma

### What is exercise induced asthma?

Exercise induced asthma is a condition where physical activity triggers asthma symptoms like wheezing, coughing, and shortness of breath. It occurs when vigorous exercise causes bronchoconstriction or narrowing of the airways leading to asthma symptoms.

What causes exercise induced asthma?

The exact causes are not fully known but it’s believed to be triggered by increased ventilation during exercise which causes drying and cooling of the airways. This leads to release of inflammatory mediators which cause swelling and bronchoconstriction of the airways.

Does exercise induced asthma only occur during or after exercise?

For most people with EIA, symptoms generally occur 5-20 minutes after stopping exercise. Some may experience symptoms during prolonged vigorous exercise. Symptoms usually go away within 30 minutes once activity stops.

Can exercise induced asthma be prevented?

Yes, by taking preventive medicines like inhaled corticosteroids before exercise. Other tips include warming up, cooling down after exercise, avoiding exercising in cold/dry air, and wearing a face mask to warm and humidify inhaled air.

Is exercise induced asthma dangerous?

EIA is not generally dangerous for most people. However, poor control can lead to reduced quality of life and avoidance of exercise. Rarely, some people experience severe symptoms like wheezing, breathlessness, chest tightness requiring immediate medical care.

Does exercise induced asthma affect performance in sports?

Symptoms like coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath can reduce exercise capacity. However, with proper management, most people with EIA can participate in sports and intense exercise without limitations.

Can exercise induced asthma be cured permanently?

There is no permanent cure yet. However, for many people, regular exercise and preventive medicines help them outgrow EIA as they get older. For others, working with a doctor to find the right treatment helps manage symptoms effectively.

What is the difference between exercise induced asthma and vocal cord dysfunction?

In EIA, asthma causes wheezing and difficulty breathing during/after exercise. In vocal cord dysfunction, improper closing of the vocal cords causes throat tightness and wheezing during exercise. An evaluation by a doctor is needed to distinguish between them.

Can exercise induced asthma go away on its own?

For some people, EIA goes away over time without treatment. However, symptoms may persist or worsen without proper management. Working with your doctor on preventive measures and medication can help control EIA effectively.


Exercise-induced asthma can significantly impact one’s ability to participate in physical activities and sports. However, with proper management and treatment, it is possible to effectively control symptoms and continue to exercise and stay active. Key points to remember include:

– Exercise-induced asthma is triggered by vigorous physical activity, especially in cold, dry air. Activities like running, biking, swimming, and team sports are common triggers.

– Symptoms like coughing, wheezing, chest tightness, and shortness of breath during or after exercise indicate EIA. See a doctor for evaluation and diagnosis.

– Preventive medications taken before activity can help reduce airway inflammation and ease symptoms. Bronchodilators like albuterol provide quick relief if symptoms occur.

– Lifestyle changes can also help reduce EIA flare ups. Warming up properly, breathing through the nose, and wearing a mask in cold weather can make a difference.

– With the right treatment plan, people with exercise-induced asthma can successfully manage their symptoms. Work closely with your doctor to find the strategies that are most effective for you.

Controlling Exercise-induced asthma takes commitment and consistency, but the payoff is getting to remain physically active and participate in exercise you enjoy. Don’t let exercise-induced asthma keep you on the sidelines. Speak to our specialist for complete cure from exercise-induced asthma. Take steps to properly diagnose, treat, and manage this condition.