Exercise and Asthma: Is Exercise Jeopardizing Your Health?
You have just finished a great workout when you start coughing. You have a hard time breathing and your chest feels tight. Did you push yourself too hard? Maybe. But you are not out of shape. At least, you did not think so. But this is not the first time this has happened after you have exercised.
If this sounds familiar, you may have exercise-induced asthma (EIA). This is asthma that is triggered by exercise. It often starts 5 to 10 minutes after exercise. It may go away 20 to 60 minutes after you are done exercising.
It may cause you to have:
- Tightness in the chest
- Shortness of breath
- Excess mucus
- Lack of energy during exercise
These problems often get worse when air pollutants, pollen, or cold, dry air is present. That is why EIA is more common in cold weather sports like speed skating, figure skating, and cross-country skiing.
The cause of EIA is not known. It may be because we breathe differently during exercise. Our breaths are quicker and through our mouths. This may affect the lungs because the air that is inhaled has not had time to be warmed and moistened like when it enters through the nose. The cooler and dryer airways cause the muscles around the airways to tighten. This leads to asthma symptoms.
Ways to Stay Active
EIA should not stop you from being active. There are many ways to manage it. The one that is used will vary from person to person. You may need to use medicines that are inhaled or swallowed to help open your airways. Some medicines may need to be used before exercising and some may be needed daily. Use them as advised by your care team.
Here are some other tips to help you stay active:
- Warm up before exercising if your doctor thinks it will help.
- Breathe through your nose—Your nose helps warm the air before it reaches your airways.
- Try swimming—Indoor pools are warm and moist. There is a smaller chance of an EIA attack. But keep in mind that a heavily chlorinated pool may trigger symptoms.
- Cold weather care—Wear a face mask or scarf over your nose and mouth when exercising in cold weather. This warms the air before it reaches your lungs.
- Protect yourself from pollen—If pollen is a problem for you, exercise indoors when pollen counts are high.
- Adjust the intensity of your workouts—High-intensity aerobic sports, especially in cold weather, are more likely to cause problems.
Don't stop trying to stay active. If one method or medicine does not help you, then talk to your doctor. Changes can be made to your care plan to help keep you moving.
The American Lung Association
The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America
Allergy Asthma Information Association
The Canadian Lung Association
Exercise and asthma. American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology website. Available at: https://www.aaaai.org/Tools-for-the-Public/Conditions-Library/Asthma/Exercise-and-Asthma. Accessed June 21, 2021.
Exercise-induced bronchoconstriction. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/exercise-induced-bronchoconstriction. Accessed June 21, 2021.
Exercise-induced asthma. Kids Health website. Available at: https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/exercise-asthma.html. Accessed June 21, 2021.
Last reviewed June 2021 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Last Updated: 6/21/2021