What is exercise-induced asthma?

Exercise-induced asthma is asthma that is triggered by physical activity. Most people who have chronic asthma will experience symptoms when they exercise. However, many people without chronic asthma develop symptoms only during exertion.

During normal breathing, the air we breathe is first warmed and moistened by the nasal passages. One of the reasons that exercise-induced asthma may occur is that during exercise, people tend to breathe through the mouth, which means that they inhale colder and drier air. In exercise-induced asthma, the muscle bands around the airways are sensitive to these changes in temperature and humidity of the inhaled air. These bands react by contracting (or spasming), which narrows the airway. This results in symptoms of asthma.

What are the symptoms of exercise-induced asthma?

Exercise-induced asthma’s symptoms include:

  • Coughing
  • Tightness in the chest
  • Wheezing
  • Unusual fatigue while exercising
  • Feeling short of breath while exercising

Other factors that can influence the degree of symptoms with exercise are the presence of pollens and pollutants in the air and upper respiratory infections.

The symptoms of exercise-induced asthma generally begin within 5-20 minutes after the start of physical activity, or 5-10 minutes after brief exercise has stopped. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms with physical exertion, tell your doctor.

Which sports are more likely to cause symptoms?

The type of activity that causes exercise-induced asthma varies from person to person.

For some people, activities that involve short, intermittent periods of exertion, such as volleyball, gymnastics, baseball, walking, and wrestling may lead to symptoms.

For others, activities that involve long periods of exertion (soccer, distance running, basketball, and field hockey), or cold weather sports (ice hockey, cross-country skiing, ice skating), may not be tolerated.

Others still are not able to participate in swimming, which is a strong endurance sport, and generally well tolerated because it is usually performed in a warm, moist air environment. Despite these limitations, many people with asthma are able to fully participate in some activities when they take the right precautions.

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