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.
Sound familiar? If so, then you may have exercise-induced asthma (EIA). Simply put, EIA is asthma that is triggered by exercise. It most commonly strikes 5-10 minutes after exercise. It may go away 20-60 minutes after you are done exercising.
Symptoms often increase 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.
It is not completely clear what causes EIA. A theory is that during exercise, you breathe differently, usually more quickly and through your mouth. This affects your lungs because the air that you are inhaling has not had time to be warmed and moistened, the way that it is when you breath through your nose. The cooler and dryer airways cause the muscles around the airways to tighten, which in turn leads to asthma symptoms.
Certain factors increase your risk of developing EIA. For example, if you have asthma or severe rhinitis (hay fever), you may be more likely to experience EIA. It is also more prevalent in competitive athletes.
EIA is often undiagnosed because many patients stop exercising and do not resume exercising because of it. Physicians use patient history and breathing function tests in order to help diagnose patients with EIA.
Treatment options for EIA are numerous. The best option varies from person to person. It may involve using medications that are either inhaled or swallowed, such as short-acting beta-2 agonists.
Other interventions include avoiding irritants and exercising in dry, cold environments. It may help to wear a mask or scarf over your mouth in a cold, dry environment. Warming up prior to exercise may also help reduce symptoms.
Because treatment is available, EIA should not stop you from being active.
The key to preventing or reducing the frequency of EIA is to exercise sensibly. Talk to your doctor about what measures would work best for you. Here are some general guidelines to follow:
The American Lung Association
The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America
Allergy Asthma Information Association
The Canadian Lung Association
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Exercise-induced bronchoconstriction. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated December 10, 2015. Accessed January 21, 2016.
Exercise-induced asthma. Kids Health website. Available at: http://kidshealth.org/parent/medical/asthma/exercise_asthma.html#. Updated January 2014. Accessed January 21, 2016.
Last reviewed January 2016 by Michael Woods, MD Last Updated: 2/10/2014