When the airways constrict or close off during strenuous exercise, this is known as exercise-induced asthma. During or after physical activity, it manifests itself in a variety of ways, including shortness of breath, wheezing, and coughing.

Exercise-induced bronchoconstriction is the medical term for this. It's common for people with asthma to experience a narrowing of their airways during physical activity. However, it's possible for people who don't have asthma to develop it.

As long as symptoms are managed, most people with exercise-induced asthma can keep exercising and leading active lifestyles. Asthma treatment consists of both use of medication and pre-activity measures to reduce likelihood of asthmatic symptoms.


What is Exercise-Induced Asthma?

When the airways are constricted due to physical activity, a condition known as exercise-induced bronchospasm (EIB) or exercise-induced asthma develops. Sports and exercise can bring on asthma attacks, making it difficult to breathe. Exercise and its subsequent rest periods may exacerbate asthma symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath.

When the airways constrict (get narrower) due to exertion, asthma symptoms manifest. Symptoms are more severe in environments where there's a high concentration of pollutants or pollen.

It's important for people with this asthma to warm up before beginning any physical activity. To avoid an EIB episode and open the airways, inhalers and other medications can be used.


How is Exercise-induced Asthma Triggered?

Warming up and cooling down is essential to prevent exercise induced bronchospasm. (Image via Pexels/Maksim Goncharenok)
Warming up and cooling down is essential to prevent exercise induced bronchospasm. (Image via Pexels/Maksim Goncharenok)

Compared to when you're at rest, you take in significantly more air when you exercise. That's because the muscles need a greater concentration of oxygen when you're working out.

You need warm, moist air to enter your airways. Warm, humid air is more comfortable to breathe. Inhaling through the nose is the most effective method of increasing the moisture content of the air you breathe in. However, mouth breathing is common during physical activity.

The air you breathe in through the mouth lacks the same hydrating and warming properties as the air you take in through your nose, not to mention the ability to filter out dust and allergens. Consequently, the air you take in through your mouth is less humid, cooler, and may contain more irritants.

Exercise-induced asthma is triggered when you inhale a lot of dry, cool air, as that can aggravate the airways. That increases the likelihood of the airway narrowing and inflammation.


Is Exercise-Induced Asthma Common?

Asthma is generally induced by cold, dry air (Image via Pexels/Towfiqu Barbhuiya)
Asthma is generally induced by cold, dry air (Image via Pexels/Towfiqu Barbhuiya)

Yes. Exercise-induced asthma is common and is also known as exercise-induced bronchospasm or sports-induced asthma. There's a significant increase in asthma symptoms during and after exercise for about 90% of people with asthma.

However, EIB can also occur in people who do not have asthma. Exercise-induced asthma affects about 10% of the population who otherwise do not suffer from the condition.

Asthma triggered by exercise can affect people of any age. Asthmatics and allergy sufferers are disproportionately represented among those who suffer from this condition. Olympic athletes, professional football, soccer, and hockey players are disproportionately affected by sports-induced asthma.


Symptoms of Exercise-Induced Asthma

Certain medications can help you deal with exercise induced asthma and exercise inspite of it (Image via Pexels/Mikhail Nilov)
Certain medications can help you deal with exercise induced asthma and exercise inspite of it (Image via Pexels/Mikhail Nilov)

Check out the following symptoms of the condition:

  • coughing (most common)
  • chest tightness
  • shortness of breath
  • wheezing
  • mucus
  • chest pain (rare)

In addition to your unique health situation and intensity of your workout, the severity of these symptoms can vary. It's possible that you may experience only a cough or no symptoms at all.

Exercise-induced asthma symptoms typically begin within 5-20 minutes into physical activity. After you stop exercising, you may experience an increase in symptoms that can last up to 30 minutes.

If you're physically unfit, you may also experience these symptoms. In contrast, mucus is not brought on by being unfit. Airway inflammation is the root cause of these symptoms.

Exercise-induced symptoms (EIB) typically persist even after you stop your workout routine. If you're physically unfit, you may notice an improvement in your symptoms soon after you stop exercising.


Exercise-induced Asthma Treatment and How to Exercise Safely

Light exercises are recommended for those suffering from this condition (Image via Pexels/Rodnae Productions)
Light exercises are recommended for those suffering from this condition (Image via Pexels/Rodnae Productions)

Taking bronchodilators or an asthma inhaler before exercising can reduce or eliminate the risk of exercise-induced asthma attacks.

Short-acting beta-2 agonists, such as albuterol, are the drugs of choice for treating asthma. By preventing airways from contracting, these medications can help keep exercise-induced asthma under control if taken just ten minutes beforehand.

Inhaling ipratropium, which aids in the relaxation of the airways, is another asthma treatment that may be useful when taken before exercise. Having your asthma under control can help you avoid any problems during physical activity.


Here's how to exercise safely if you have a history of asthma attacks during your workouts:

  • Never engage in physical activity without first using a rescue inhaler, and wait for the prescribed amount of time afterwards.
  • Before beginning your workout, you should spend 5-10 minutes warming up, and another five minutes cooling down.
  • Put a mask over your face or a scarf over your mouth. The air you breathe may become more comfortable and humid if you do that. Additionally, it can protect you from airborne allergens and toxins.
  • Avoid outdoor activities when the temperature drops. Dry, constricted airways are a common side effect of cold weather. Exercises like skiing and ice skating should be avoided or at least kept to a minimum.
  • Sports that require extensive periods of running, jumping, or other vigorous activity could exacerbate uncontrolled asthma. Stay away from strenuous activities like marathon running and cycling.

Aerobic exercise can bring on a condition known as exercise-induced asthma or bronchoconstriction. Colder, drier air is more likely to cause swelling and constriction in the airways, making it difficult to breathe. Symptoms include chest congestion, wheezing, and coughing.




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