Exercise-induced asthma, or sports-induced asthma, happens when airways constrict during physical activity. This causes coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath. These symptoms appear during or after exercise and may come back after rest. With medications and good exercise choices you can manage exercise-induced asthma and stay active.
Exercise-induced asthma, or exercise-induced bronchoconstriction (EIB), happens when airways get smaller during exercise. Asthma triggered by sports or exercising can make it hard for you to breathe. You may have asthma symptoms like coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath during or after physical activity.
Asthma symptoms appear when the airways constrict (become narrower) during exercise. Symptoms are worse when the air is cold and dry, or when pollution levels and pollen counts are high.
People with exercise-induced asthma should warm up before exercising. Inhalers and other medications can prevent an EIB episode and open the airways.
Yes. Exercise-induced asthma, sometimes called exercise-induced bronchospasm or sports-induced asthma, is common. About 90% of people with asthma have symptoms of asthma during or after exercise. But people who don’t have asthma can get EIB too. Around 10% of people without asthma have exercise-induced asthma.
Anyone can get exercise-induced asthma, including children and adults. People with asthma and allergies are more likely to have the condition. Sports-induced asthma is more common among elite athletes, including Olympic athletes and professional football, soccer and hockey players.
Symptoms can range from mild to severe. They can appear a few minutes after you start exercising or after you finish a workout. Symptoms usually start to improve after about 30 minutes of rest.
Sometimes, exercise-induced asthma can return up to 12 hours after you’ve finished exercising. They can appear even when you’re at rest. These are called “late-phase” symptoms. It may take up to a day for late-phase symptoms to go away.
Symptoms of asthma triggered by exercising include:
Rigorous physical activity and cold, dry air can trigger exercise-induced asthma. When you’re resting, you usually breathe through your nose. Your nose warms and moisturizes the air you breathe as it travels through your nostrils.
When you exercise, you breathe in through your mouth more often, and the air coming in remains cold and dry. If you have asthma, the bands of muscle around your airways react to the cold, dry air by constricting (becoming narrow).
Exercise-induced asthma is worse when:
If you have sports-induced asthma, you may want to choose certain activities over others. Endurance sports and activities that take place in colder temperatures are more likely to trigger symptoms. That’s because cold, dry air can constrict the airways and trigger symptoms of asthma.
Sports that are most likely to trigger symptoms of asthma:
Indoor sports and those with short bursts of activity are less likely to trigger an asthma episode. But any activity can cause symptoms. Be sure to talk to your provider before starting any exercise program.
To avoid symptoms, you may want participate in sports or exercises that are best for asthma including:
Your provider will ask about your symptoms, including when you have them and how long they last. After listening to your lungs, your provider will ask you to perform an activity that usually triggers your symptoms (such as running outside). Then your provider will measure your lung function with a spirometry test.
During spirometry, you exhale as much air as you can as fast as possible. You breathe into a tube attached to a machine called a spirometer. The machine measures how well your lungs work after exercise.
There is no cure for asthma triggered by exercising or sports. Treatment focuses on preventing and relieving symptoms.
To avoid an episode, you should warm up for at least six minutes before starting exercise. Ask your provider to recommend the best warmup routine for your age and fitness level.
Your provider may recommend one medication or a combination of several medications. Some drugs open your airways while you’re experiencing exercise-induced asthma. Other medications prevent an episode. These medications include:
With planning and preparation, you may be able to avoid an asthma episode. Before physical activity, you should:
Many people with exercise or sports-induced asthma manage the condition and live active, healthy lifestyles. With proper planning and care, you can exercise and enjoy a variety of sports and activities.
If you or your child has symptoms of exercise or sports-induced asthma, call your provider. Several conditions have symptoms that are similar to EIB. It’s essential to get evaluated.
If you or your child has severe shortness of breath or trouble breathing, seek immediate medical attention. Call 911 or go directly to the emergency room.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Many people with exercise-induced asthma play sports, enjoy a range of activities and live an active lifestyle. People of all fitness levels, including Olympic athletes and marathon runners, manage asthma and excel at their sports. If you or your child has EIB, be sure to include a warmup routine before exercise. Keep an eye on pollen counts and air quality before you head outside. Talk to your provider about medications that can help you breathe easier. With lifestyle changes and prior planning, you can stay active and exercise safely.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 03/17/2021.
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