Exercise-Induced Asthma

Causes and management of exercise induced asthma

Man at the gym who has stopped using the treadmill looking up exercise induced asthma on his phone

Key takeaways

  • An asthma attack can be triggered by doing exercise for a long time or doing very intense exercise

  • This happens because during exercise you breathe through your mouth and colder drier air can affect your lungs

  • Symptoms of exercise-induced asthma can happen 5-20 minutes into a long session, or 5-10 minutes after a short one

  • You can prevent exercise-induced asthma using techniques and inhaler treatments

  • You should still be exercising, even if you’re worried about exercise-induced asthma

Contents of this article

What is exercise-induced asthma?

Exercise-induced asthma is an asthma attack triggered by prolonged or intensive physical exercise. If you are someone who suffers from asthma already, you are more likely to experience asthma symptoms during or after exercise. However, it is also common for people to experience exercise-induced asthma during physical exertion, even if they do not have asthma symptoms at any other time.

Why does exercise trigger asthma?

Exercise, or physical exertion, can induce asthma symptoms. This is because the way we breathe changes when we exercise.

In normal breathing, we breathe mostly through our noses. The air we inhale travels through our nasal passages, getting warm and moist before reaching our lungs.

When we breathe during exercise, it tends to be through our mouths rather than our noses. This means that the air we inhale is cooler and drier. Cold and dry air can be a shock to our airways, which are very sensitive to any change in temperature or humidity. The muscles in the airways react by narrowing or closing in, thereby triggering the asthma symptoms.

Symptoms

The symptoms of exercise-induced asthma are very similar to those of chronic asthma, or to a normal asthma attack. They include:

  • a tight chest, and wheezing
  • shortness of breath
  • coughing
  • difficulty finishing exercise

Symptoms of exercise-induced asthma usually occur around 5-20 minutes into a long period of exercise, or 5-10 minutes after finishing short periods of exercise. Make sure to consult your doctor if you ever experience asthma symptoms during or immediately after exercise.

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How can I prevent exercise-induced asthma?

Sometimes, asthma attacks are unavoidable. But there are some things you can do to help prevent exercise-induced asthma:

  • Use your preventative asthma inhaler 10-15 minutes before exercising
  • Remember to warm up and warm down properly
  • If it is very cold, and you have to exercise outdoors, wear a scarf or mask to cover your mouth and nose
  • If you have allergies to pollen and the pollen count is high, avoid exercising outdoors

How do you treat exercise-induced asthma?

You should treat exercise-induced asthma like you would your normal asthma symptoms, or an asthma attack. Try to remain calm, and use your reliever inhaler to relieve your symptoms, taking 1 puff of your inhaler every 30-60 seconds for a maximum of 10 puffs.

If your symptoms do not improve, or you are worried at any point, dial 999 for an ambulance and repeat the first steps while waiting for medical assistance.

Should I exercise if I have asthma?

Yes! There is no reason you should avoid exercise or physical activity if you have asthma. In fact, exercising regularly will help your overall health, and may even improve your symptoms.

If you follow the steps above for preventing exercise-induced asthma, you should be able to exercise normally, without the symptoms of an attack.

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