Exercise-Induced Asthma

What is Exercise-Induced Asthma?

Exercise-induced asthma, or EIB (Exercise-Induced Bronchoconstriction), is caused by prolonged or vigorous physical exertion, such as exercise.

Many people who have chronic asthma will experience asthma symptoms while they exercise, but even people who don’t have chronic asthma can develop these symptoms only when they exercise.

What are the Symptoms of Exercise-Induced Asthma?

The symptoms that are commonly associated with exercise-induced asthma include wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath, and tightness in the chest. However, coughing, which is the most common sign of EIB, could also be the only symptom.

Symptoms can be mild to severe in intensity. They usually won’t occur at the beginning of exercise. Instead, they’ll typically start while you’re exercising, and they could become more severe anywhere from 5-10 minutes after you stop exercising. After another 20-30 minutes, the symptoms will usually resolve.

Some people may have what is known as a second wave of symptoms that come about anywhere from 4-12 hours after they have stopped exercising. These are usually less severe, but they could take as long as 24 hours to go away.

Exercise-Induced Asthma Causes

There is a great deal of research into the many possible causes of exercise-induced asthma. Multiple biological conditions and environmental factors may combine to cause the condition. Those who experience the bronchoconstriction associated with asthma during exercise suffer from the condition as a result of inflammation of the airway, along with the excess production of mucus. Environmental factors may include air that is too cold or too dry, air pollution, or a high degree of allergens such as pollen. Harsh chemicals such as chlorine or bleach fumes have also been linked to the condition. Respiratory diseases and upper respiratory infections are also common causes of exercise-induced breathing difficulties.

How is Exercise-Induced Asthma Treated?

To properly manage EIB, it is important to take preventative measures, such as covering your nose and mouth with a scarf whenever you exercise in weather that is cold and dry. Do not exercise outside if there is a lot of pollution, pollen, or other allergens in the air.

You should also warm up your body for anywhere from 6-10 minutes before diving into vigorous exercise, and don’t forget to cool down at the end of your workout.

Another option would be to take medication prescribed by your doctor prior to exercising in order to prevent attacks. You should also stick with exercise routines that don’t trigger asthma symptoms.

Exercise-Induced Asthma Prevention

Asthma is most commonly prevented by controlling the condition with inhaled medication, especially prior to exercise. Short-acting medications such as albuterol and inhaled corticosteroids are best for this purpose. Controlling the asthmatic condition with a regular regimen of these treatments can prevent flare-ups during exercise. In addition to medication, there are many steps that can be taken prior to exercise that may lower the risk of asthma attacks. Having a good warm-up prior to intense exercise and a cool down period afterwards is good for cardiovascular fitness in general and beneficial to those with respiratory disorders. For those who are aware that they suffer from allergies, exercise should be limited when there is a warning for pollution or a high pollen count. The temperature of the air should be taken into account too and exercise indoors may be a good alternative on cold days. If those who are suffering are feeling sick or suffering from a cold, flu or respiratory infection, they should restrict their exercise in terms of both amount and duration.

Last Reviewed:
September 20, 2016
Last Updated:
December 20, 2017