If you cough, wheeze or feel out of breath during or after exercise, it may be more than exertion causing your symptoms. You might have exercise-induced asthma. As with asthma triggered by other things, exercise-induced asthma symptoms occur when your airways tighten and produce extra mucus.
If you have exercise-induced asthma — also called exercise-induced bronchospasm (BRONG-ko-spaz-um) — physical exertion may be the only thing that triggers your symptoms. Or, exercise may be just one of several things that trigger your asthma. But having exercise-induced asthma doesn't mean you shouldn't exercise. Proper treatment and precautions can keep you active — whether you're strolling through the park or competing for Olympic gold.
Exercise-induced asthma symptoms can include:
Exercise-induced asthma symptoms may start a few minutes after you begin exercising. Some people have symptoms 10 to 15 minutes after finishing a workout. It's possible to have symptoms both during and after exercise.
Feeling a little short of breath or fatigued when you work out is normal, especially if you aren't in great shape. But with exercise-induced asthma, these symptoms can be more severe.
For many people, exercise is just one of a few asthma triggers. Others can include pollen, pet dander and other airborne allergens.
When to see a doctor
Seek immediate medical treatment if you have worsening symptoms. Severe asthma attacks can be life-threatening. Signs of an asthma attack that needs emergency treatment include:
If you have asthma, the inside walls of the airways in your lungs can become inflamed and swollen. In addition, membranes in your airway linings may secrete excess mucus. The result is an asthma ...
It isn't clear exactly what causes exercise-induced asthma, and why some people get it and others don't. In susceptible individuals, symptoms may be triggered by drying or cooling of the airways during heavy breathing.
Factors that can trigger or worsen exercise-induced asthma include:
There's no particular exercise you must avoid when you have exercise-induced asthma, but activities that make you breathe hard are more likely to trigger symptoms. For example, aerobic exercise, such as running or playing basketball, hockey or soccer, is more likely to trigger symptoms than is weightlifting, golfing or moderate-paced walking. Likewise, exercising in cold weather also can increase asthma symptoms because you're breathing in a lot of cold, dry air.
But don't let that discourage you. With proper treatment, you can do intense aerobic activities — and cold-weather workouts — without asthma symptoms slowing you down.
Exercise-induced asthma can occur in people of any age and activity level, but certain people are more likely to be diagnosed with the condition than others. Factors that increase your risk include:
Asthma of any kind — including exercise-induced asthma — may cause a number of complications. Proper treatment can help you avoid them. Possible asthma complications include:
Preparing for your appointment
You're likely to start by first seeing your primary care doctor. Or, you may start by seeing a doctor who specializes in asthma (an allergist/immunologist or pulmonologist).
Because appointments can be brief, and because there's often a lot of ground to cover, it's a good idea to be well prepared for your appointment. Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointment, and what to expect from your doctor.
What you can do
Your time with your doctor is limited, so preparing a list of questions ahead of time will help you make the most of your time together. List your questions from most important to least important in case time runs out. Some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
In addition to the questions that you've prepared to ask your doctor, don't hesitate to ask questions during your appointment if you don't understand something.
What to expect from your doctor
Tests and diagnosis
Your doctor will probably start by doing a physical exam that includes your ears, nose, throat and chest and may ask you a number of questions.
You may need one or more tests to see what's going on and to make sure your symptoms aren't caused by something other than exercise-induced asthma. If you do have asthma, your doctor may want to do tests to determine how well your lungs are working and if something other than exercise also triggers your symptoms.
However, extensive testing isn't always needed to diagnose exercise-induced asthma. Your doctor may give you an inhaler to try before exercise. If it works, you probably do have asthma. For many people with exercise-induced asthma, taking one or two puffs of albuterol or another inhaled medication before exercise is enough to ease symptoms.
Ruling out other conditions
Lung function tests
A spirometer is a diagnostic device that measures the amount of air you're able to breathe in and out and the time it takes you to exhale completely after you take a deep breath. ...
Treatments and drugs
For many people, a few puffs from a quick-relief inhaler right before exercise is enough to control asthma symptoms. These bronchodilator (brong-koh-DIE-lay-tur) medications — albuterol, for example — quickly open the airways and can help control symptoms for several hours.
However, some people also need to take additional medications to control asthma symptoms. You may need daily long-term control medications if you have frequent asthma symptoms when you're not exercising, or if using a medication before exercise doesn't keep your symptoms under control.
Long-term control medications
Treatment for allergy-induced asthma
Don't rely only on quick-relief medications
There's no way to keep from getting exercise-induced asthma. But you can take steps to keep symptoms under control:
Last Updated: 2010-03-27
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