Asthma and Exercise
Asthma is a long-term condition causing swelling and narrowing of the airways. The
muscles around the airways tighten and extra mucus is produced. These changes make
it more difficult to move air in and out of the lungs. Triggers are things that cause
asthma flare-ups and worsen symptoms. Triggers may be dust, pollen, pets, infections,
cold weather, smoke, air pollution, and exercise.
Exercise is a common trigger for many people with asthma. For some, exercise, and
other things, cause asthma symptoms. For others, asthma symptoms only happen with
exercise or physical activity. In either case, the term to describe the condition
is exercise-induced bronchoconstriction or EIB. (It used to be called exercise-induced
asthma.) It means that exercise causes the airways or bronchi to narrow or constrict.
Exercise is important for overall good health and for keeping the lungs and muscles
involved in breathing strong. Your body needs exercise. Make sure you work with your
healthcare provider to do it safely and with as few symptoms as possible.
Long-distance running may not be a good exercise for people with asthma.
The cause of EIB
Why exercise causes narrowing of the airways is not completely understood. When exercising,
the increased breathing in and out through the mouth may cause the airways to dry
and cool. This may irritate them and cause symptoms. This is especially true when
exercising outside in cold weather. Breathing in air pollution, chemicals, or allergens
(like pollen) may also be factors. Since we breathe more when we exercise, a larger
amount of potential triggers are breathed in.
Symptoms of EIB
Exercise-induced bronchoconstriction is characterized by asthma symptoms, such as
coughing, wheezing, and tightness in the chest within 5 to 20 minutes after starting
to exercise. In some people, the symptoms can start after exercise, especially if
the exercise is strenuous and short. Exercise-induced bronchoconstriction can also
include symptoms, such as unusual fatigue and feeling short-of-breath while or after
However, don't completely avoid exercise. In fact, exercise is very beneficial to
people with asthma. It can improve their airway function by strengthening their breathing
muscles. Talk with your healthcare provider for more information.
You can take steps to help control EIB or symptoms of asthma when exercising. Again,
make sure you develop a plan with the help of your health care provider. And, make
sure you do the following:
Make sure you start slowly. Warm up before you start your actual exercise. And slowly
cool down at the end of exercise or activity.
Make sure you carry your quick-relief inhaler with you. Use it 15 minutes before you
start exercising or as your provider recommended.
Some people use daily controller medicines for EIB. If you do, make sure you take
it exactly as instructed.
Think about exercising indoors if it is very cold or if pollution or allergen levels
If you do exercise outside during cold weather, wear a scarf over your mouth and nose.
Some people also use a special device or mask to exercise outdoors when it is very
Recommended sports and activities
Any activity can cause asthma symptoms. Sports and activities with short bursts of
activity, rather than long periods of activity, are usually better for people with
asthma. According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, some
sports may be less likely to trigger symptoms. The warm, humid environment, the use
of upper body muscles, and the body position while swimming may be good for people
with asthma (exercise-induced or not). One warning, the chemicals used to treat swimming
pools are a problem for some people. Other recommended activities and sports include:
Sports that may increase the chance of symptoms include:
However, with proper management and preparation, most people with EIB can take part
in any sport or physical activity.