Exercise-Induced Asthma - Topic Overview
asthma attack is a short period when breathing becomes
difficult, sometimes along with chest tightness, wheezing, and coughing. When
this happens during or after exercise, it is known as exercise-induced asthma
or exercise-induced bronchospasm. About 70 to 90 out of 100 people who have persistent
asthma and about 10 out of 100 people who do not have asthma have exercise-induced
asthma.1, 2 Exercise-induced
asthma develops most often in athletes, especially those who train or perform
in cold air. Swimming appears to cause the fewest problems for children who have
asthma. Swimming may even help reduce the severity of exercise-induced
For most people:
- Shortness of breath may occur early in an
exercise period. Some people get worse 5 to 10 minutes after exercise
- Difficulty breathing usually goes away within 20 to 30
minutes after stopping exercise.
Exercise-induced asthma is often not diagnosed, especially in
children. Most experts agree that a medical history and a physical exam are not
accurate tools for diagnosing exercise-induced asthma. If you notice the
symptoms of asthma (such as wheezing or shortness of breath) after your child
exercises, be sure to tell your doctor.
Children who have asthma should still be encouraged to exercise. And they should not be
excused from exercise unless that is really needed.
For people who have
asthma symptoms during exercise, using asthma-controlling medicine before
exercise may help reduce symptoms, especially in cold, dry weather. For these
people, some asthma experts recommend the following:4
- Take your medicine daily, if needed, to reduce
airway inflammation and reduce the overreaction
(hyperresponsiveness) of the airways that carry air to the lungs (bronchial
- Warm up before you exercise.
- Use a beta2-agonist inhaler about 10 to 30 minutes before
you exercise. Examples of beta2-agonists used for exercise-induced asthma include
albuterol (such as Proventil or Ventolin) and levalbuterol (Xopenex). The effect of the
short-acting beta2-agonists lasts several hours.
Other steps you can take to reduce asthma symptoms when you
exercise include the following:
- Avoid exposure to air pollutants and
allergens whenever possible. Exercise indoors when air
pollution levels are high.
- Wear a mask or scarf wrapped around your
nose and mouth if you are exercising in cold weather. This may help warm and
moisten the air you breathe in.
- Exercise slowly for the first 10 to
If your child has exercise-induced asthma, be sure his or her
teachers and coaches know when your child's daily medicines should be given and
what to do if your child has an
asthma attack, especially before and during physical
exercise. Your child's asthma action plan provides this information. School
officials need to know the early warning signs of an asthma episode, how your
child's medicines are used, and how to give the medicines. School personnel
also should know how to contact your child's doctor.