Asthma and Exercise
is a long-term (chronic) condition causing swelling and narrowing of the airways. The
muscles around the airways tighten and extra mucus is produced. These changes make it
harder to breathe. Triggers are things that cause asthma flare-ups and make symptoms worse.
Triggers may be dust, pollen, pets, infections, cold weather, smoke, air pollution, and
is a common trigger for many people with asthma. For some people, exercise and other things
cause asthma symptoms. For others, asthma symptoms only happen with exercise or physical
activity. In both cases, this is called exercise-induced bronchoconstriction (EIB). (It
used to be called exercise-induced asthma.) This means that exercise causes the airways
(bronchi) to narrow or constrict.
with EIB doesn't mean you need to give up exercise. Exercise is important for overall good
health. It also helps keep the lungs and muscles used for breathing strong. Your body needs
exercise. Work with your healthcare provider to do it safely and with as few symptoms as
The cause of EIB
Experts don't know exactly why exercise causes narrowing of the airways. 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
such as pollen may also be factors. You breathe more when you exercise. So a larger
amount of possible triggers are breathed in.
Symptoms of EIB
symptoms are the same as asthma symptoms. They include coughing, wheezing, and chest
tightness 5 to 20 minutes after starting exercise. In some people, the symptoms can
start after exercise. This is often the case if the exercise is strenuous and short. EIB
can also include symptoms such as extra tiredness (fatigue) and feeling short-of-breath
during or after exercise.
that doesn't mean you should completely stop exercising. In fact, exercise is very
helpful for people with asthma. It can improve your airway function by strengthening
your breathing muscles. Talk with your healthcare provider for more information.
can do things to help control EIB or asthma symptoms when exercising. First make a plan
with your healthcare provider. And make sure you do the following:
Start slowly. Warm up before you start your actual exercise. And slowly cool down
at the end of exercise or activity.
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, take it exactly
Think about exercising indoors if it is very cold. Or if pollution or allergen
levels are high.
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 cold.
Recommended sports and activities
activity can cause asthma symptoms. Sports and activities with short bursts of being
active are often better for people with asthma. Some sports may be less likely to
trigger symptoms. Swimming is one of them. 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:
with the right management and preparation, most people with EIB can do any sport or
physical activity safely.