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Exercise-induced Asthma

What Is Exercise-induced Asthma?

Exercise-induced asthma is a special case of asthma, a chronic disease of the respiratory system. Like other forms of asthma, it is marked by inflammation of the lung’s airways, the production of mucous, and labored breathing. Exercise-induced asthma can be brought on by any kind of sustained or strenuous physical activity, including working out, athletic competition, and outdoor pursuits. 

Exercise-induced asthma gets its name because it is the only kind of asthma some people experience. It is estimated, however, that exercise can trigger an attack among 90 percent of regular asthma sufferers. With proper medical management, exercise-induced asthma can be controlled. People with this condition can undertake all normal living activities, including exercise. 

What Are the Symptoms of Exercise-induced Asthma?

Exercise-induced asthma is characterized by several symptoms:

  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Coughing fits
  • Chest tightness
  • Wheezing
  • Feelings of fatigue or weakness while exercising
  • Athletic performance below expectations

Symptoms often occur after you’ve finished exercising. They may last up to an hour, and can range from mild to severe in intensity. 

It’s important to note that there is difference between exercise-induced asthma and being out of physical shape. Asthma is a medical condition that can be identified and addressed by your physician. 

What Causes Exercise-induced Asthma?

Medical researchers are uncertain what causes any form of asthma. There are likely both environmental and genetic components. One known fact is that certain irritants – dust, pollen, pet dander, chemical fumes, even cold air – can trigger asthmatic responses. When you exercise, you breathe more deeply, which puts you at greater risk for coming into contact with asthmatic triggers. 

Some physical or athletic activities are more likely to trigger asthma symptoms than others. Cold weather sports, like ice hockey, or sports requiring constant movement and activity, like basketball or long-distance running, are riskier than walking, swimming, and other more casual leisure-time pursuits. 

What’s in a Name?

Exercise-induced asthma is also known as exercise-induced bronchoconstriction. The two phrases refer to the same medical condition. You will sometimes see exercise-induced asthma referred to as EIB, which is an acronym for exercise-induced bronchoconstriction. 

How Is Exercise-induced Asthma Diagnosed?

If you think you may have exercise-induced asthma, contact your primary care physician. He or she will diagnose your condition, based on family history, a physical exam, and medical test results.

There are several types of tests that he or she might arrange:


Spirometry is a lung-function test that estimates the degree of airway constriction that occurs when you breathe. Your physician may test you twice: before and after administrating a bronchodilator, which is a medicine that opens air passages and improves breathing. The extent of difference in your breathing ability can provide clues as to the underlying nature of your condition. 

Exercise Challenge

An exercise challenge attempts to recreate a situation similar to those in which you’ve experienced asthmatic symptoms. You may be asked to perform a stair climb or long-duration run on a treadmill. Sometimes a drug such as methacholine will be administered, to facilitate a mild case of bronchoconstriction. Your physician will monitor your breathing response while you’re being tested.

Inhalation Test

As an alternative to the exercise challenge, your physician may conduct an inhalation test, which attempts to produce the same asthmatic response without sustained physical exertion.

Exercise-induced asthma is like other forms of asthma – it can’t be cured but it can be controlled.

There’s no reason, even with EIB, that you can’t enjoy an active, healthy life.

How Is Exercise-induced Asthma Treated?

There are several steps you can take to reduce the risk of an asthmatic attack while exercising. These include: 

  • Warm up for at least ten minutes prior to any workout or sporting event
  • If feasible, wear a scarf or some kind of mouth cover in cold weather
  • Pay attention to your breathing, watching for imminent signs of an attack

Your physician may also provide you with pre-exercise and long-term control medications for asthma.

Pre-exercise Medications

Certain medications, taken before periods of physical activity, can help curb potential asthmatic symptoms:

  • Short-acting beta2 agonists are most commonly prescribed. Inhaled drugs that open bronchial airway include albuterol and levalbuterol. 
  • Ipratropium is a bronchodilator delivered by inhaler or nebulizer. 

Long-term Control Medications

Your physician may also prescribe long-term medications for controlling the underlying causes of your asthma. Included in this category of drugs are inhaled corticosteroids, combination inhalers, and leukotriene modifiers. 

Can Inhalers Control My Exercise-induced Asthma?

Most of the medications used to treat asthma are self-administered by inhaler. This includes both the pre-exercise and long-term control medications taken by persons with exercise-induced asthma. 

If you’re an asthma sufferer, keep your inhaler with you at all times. Use it only as directed; overuse can cause your body to build up a tolerance to the medication’s positive effects and may also indicate a gradual worsening of your asthma. 

When It Comes to Asthma, We Can Help

Asthma isn’t caused by exercise but exercise-induced asthma can make any type of regular physical exertion unpleasant or unhealthy. It doesn’t have to be that way. Get back in the game by contacting your Baptist Health medical network physician. 

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