What Is Exercise Induced Asthma?

May 23, 2024 | Asthma Care Standards, Control Your Asthma!

Do you have breathing difficulties when you exercise? Then you may have something called “exercise induced asthma”.  Let’s take a look at what causes this condition and what treatment options are available.  

What Is Exercise Induced Asthma?

Exercise induced asthma occurs when you experience airway obstruction or inflammation during exercise. In other words, you experience asthma symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, and chest tightness brought on by sports and activities. You might also see this type of asthma referred to as “exercise induced bronchoconstriction” (EIB).  

Is this type of asthma common? Yes. It’s estimated that the condition could affect up to 20% of the population.  

Causes of Exercise Induced Asthma

There are a few causes of the airway inflammation we see in these cases. Typical causes of exercise induced asthma include:

  • Cold air (especially cold, dry air)
  • Vigorous physical activity
  • Breathing through your mouth 
  • Endurance exercise (i.e. working out for a long, steady period of time without rest)

As with other types of asthma, there’s no single cause here. What they all have in common, though, is that symptoms come on once you start exercising. 

What Is the Difference Between Asthma and Exercise Induced Asthma?

If you have asthma, exercise can worsen your symptoms. This is because asthma can be triggered by allergies, medication, stress, and strenuous exercise. In fact, roughly 90% of asthma sufferers who are not in control feel worse during exercise.

However, the main difference is that people with exercise induced asthma don’t have symptoms until they exercise. Meaning, people who don’t have asthma, or who don’t take asthma medication, can develop this exercise-induced bronchoconstriction. 

What if I’m Just Out of Shape?

There’s a huge difference between asthma and being out of shape

  • Asthma typically causes symptoms such as wheezing and coughing rather than just feeling winded. 
  • If you’re a little unfit, the fatigue will pass when you stop the exercise. If you have asthma, your symptoms may continue for at least 10-15 minutes or even longer.
  • People with exercise induced asthma may feel sick or nauseous during exercise. If you’re out of shape, you probably won’t feel this way.

Symptoms of Exercise Induced Asthma

The main symptoms of exercise induced asthma are:

  • Chest pain or tightness
  • Coughing during exercise
  • Shortness of breath while working out
  • Wheezing

Woman outside in park using a blue relief inhaler to relieve asthma

Symptoms usually start within a few minutes of exercising. If you continue exercising, the symptoms get worse about 10-15 minutes in. They can take, on average, up to one hour to resolve (although some people have symptoms for up to 24 hours).

Diagnosing Exercise Induced Asthma

Making the diagnosis of exercise induced asthma depends on special tests, including:

  • Exercise tests e.g. running or walking on a treadmill
  • Lung function tests
  • Listening to your lungs

If you already have asthma, then the diagnosis may be fairly obvious. However, in all cases, we always consider other causes for your symptoms such as heart problems. 

Treatment Options for Exercise Induced Asthma

What is the best treatment for exercise induced asthma? Treatment is unique to the individual. The options include:

  • Quick relief inhaler: What inhaler is used for exercise induced asthma? Albuterol is the go-to inhaler. One approach is to use an inhaler 10-15 minutes before working out to reduce the chance of triggering asthma. 
  • Controller medicines: Depending on your symptoms, you may be prescribed a medicine that suppresses broncho-constriction throughout the day. This could make exercise more comfortable for you.
  • Steroids: Steroid medicine is one option as a controller medicine and it works by preventing inflammation of your airways that makes them more likely to constrict when triggered.

What if I Still Want to Exercise?

You can, in most cases. What’s important is that you challenge yourself safely

  • Consider starting with less intense exercise and advancing the intensity over a 2-3 week period to give your body time to adjust. 
  • Try sports with frequent rest periods so you have time to recover.
  • Exercise in warm environments e.g. indoors.

Get Help With Exercise Induced Asthma Today

Asthma can be debilitating, especially if it’s not controlled properly. But that’s where Asthmaniac, your online asthma doctor, can help. We’re committed to helping you prevent asthma attacks so you can enjoy your life. Book your online consultation today or contact us to learn more about our services.  

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