Exercise-Induced Asthma

What is Exercise-Induced Asthma?

A strong, healthy body is one of your best proactive defenses against disease. While exercising can cause shortness of breath in anyone, some people experience asthma episodes. During instances like these, you may have respiratory difficulty that is triggered by aerobic exercise that lasts for several minutes. The muscle bands around the airways respond to changes in temperature and humidity by contracting, which narrows the airway.

Whatever the trigger may be, exercise-induced asthma (EIA) can be controlled and monitored with proper treatment and preventative measures.

What are the Causes?

EIA is triggered by varying factors, which can include:

  • Cold and dry air
  • Air pollution
  • High pollen counts
  • Chlorine in swimming pools
  • Respiratory infections or other lung diseases
  • Activities with extended periods of deep breathing such as long distance running, swimming, or soccer.

What are the Symptoms?

Symptoms usually do not occur immediately at the start of exercise. The symptoms may begin during exercise and will usually escalate 5 to 10 minutes after stopping exercise. Symptoms often resolve in another 20 to 30 minutes, and can range from mild to severe.

Signs and symptoms of EIA include:

  • Coughing
  • Wheezing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest tightness or pain
  • Decreased endurance
  • Fatigued and prolonged recovery
  • Gastrointestinal discomfort

How is Exercise-Induced Asthma Diagnosed?

Wheezing or tightness in your chest can be serious. If these are identified as symptoms, consult your physician for a physical examination. Your physician can help you by:

  • Getting your health history
  • Doing a breathing test called spirometry
  • Doing a follow-up exercise challenge test

If these results indicate you might have asthma, your physician may prescribe a drug to inhale such as albuterol. If your results are normal, you may be asked to take an additional test called the bronchoprovocation challenge test.

During this exam, your physician will have you engage in a physical activity – often one you commonly perform that causes problematic symptoms. Your physician will test the amount of air you force out of your lungs with a spirometry test, and if you exhale air less forcefully after exercise, then the diagnosis may likely be EIA.

How to Minimize Exercise-Induced Asthma

Lifestyle and home remedies can help prevent and minimize symptoms of EIA. These include:

  • Do a 10-minute warm-up that varies in intensity before you begin regular exercise.
  • Breathe through your nose to warm and humidify the air before it enters your lungs.
  • Wear a face mask or scarf when exercising; especially in cold, dry weather.
  • If you have allergies, avoid triggers. For example, don’t exercise outside when pollen counts are high.
  • Avoid strenuous exercise if you have a cold or other respiratory infection.
  • Exercise regularly to stay in shape and promote good respiratory health.

How to Treat Exercise-Induced Asthma

Three different types of medications help prevent or treat the symptoms of EIA. Your physician can help you find the best treatment program for you based on your medical history and type of activity.

  • Short-acting bronchodilator can prevent symptoms when taken 10 to 15 minutes before exercise. It will help prevent symptoms for up to four hours, and can be used to reverse symptoms after they occur.
  • Long-acting bronchodilator is taken once within a 12-hour period, and 30 to 60 minutes before activity. It can help prevent EIA symptoms for 10 to 12 hours, and does not offer any quick relief, so it is not used for treating symptoms once they begin.
  • Mast cell stabilizers need to be taken 15 to 20 minutes before exercise, and can help prevent the late phase reaction of EIA. Similar to the long-acting broncodilator, this medication is only for preventing EIA because it does not relieve symptoms once they begin

What Types of Exercise are Best for Exercise-Induced Asthma Patients?

Sports and physical activities most likely to trigger EIA include:

  • Sports or activities in cold/dry weather (i.e. ice hockey, skiing, ice skating, snowboarding)
  • Sports or activities that require constant activity (i.e. long distance running, soccer)

Sports and physical activities least likely to trigger EIA include:

  • Sports or activities that use short bursts of exercise (i.e. volleyball, baseball, gymnastics)
  • Walking or leisure biking
  • Swimming in a warm, humid environment

If you are diagnosed with EIA, consult your healthcare provider before beginning any exercise program. Pace yourself, and with effective management, you can perform and excel in a variety of sports.

Schedule a Consultation

Exercise-induced asthma can disrupt performance in sports and physical activity. Schedule a consultation with Dr. Shukla today to learn more about your condition and treatment options.

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