Why Do I Only Get Asthma Symptoms During Exercise?

Sep 01, 2023
Why Do I Only Get Asthma Symptoms During Exercise?
Do you find yourself struggling to breathe when you exercise? Does physical activity cause you to cough or wheeze? You could have exercise-induced asthma. See what’s to blame for this common problem, and what can help.

Did you know that up to 90% of Americans experience asthma symptoms in response to physical activity? People often refer to this issue as exercise-induced asthma. However, the technical term is exercise-induced bronchoconstriction (EIB). 

Our team at Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology Associates can help get your training on track if breathing issues flare up when you exercise. Here’s what you should know about this common problem.

EIB basics

It’s no secret that exercise can cause shortness of breath. However, there’s a big difference between this natural response to exertion and what occurs when you have asthma triggered by physical activity.

For starters, asthma symptoms develop when your airways become narrow and inflamed. When exercising, this can prompt a variety of issues, such as:

  • Coughing
  • Wheezing
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Tightness in the chest
  • Poor endurance
  • Severe fatigue

It’s also common for people who have EIB to experience these symptoms in certain situations more often than others.

Understanding exercise-induced bronchoconstriction

Most people with EIB also have asthma. However, an estimated 10% of those affected do not. What sets EIB apart involves its triggers, mainly how a person breathes.

When at rest, people usually breathe through their nose. During exercise, they use their mouth. This may not seem significant, but it plays a huge role with EIB symptoms.

Breathing through your nose moisturizes and warms the air as it passes through your nostrils into your airways. Breathing through your mouth, especially at an increased rate, fills your respiratory system with cold, dry air. If you have asthma, this activates the muscles surrounding your airways, causing them to constrict.

Additional factors that can worsen EIB include:

  • High pollen counts
  • Poor air quality
  • Colds or respiratory illnesses
  • Environmental toxins, like chemicals, fumes, or smoke
  • Activities involving constant exertion, like basketball, soccer, and long-distance running
  • Sports that involve cold weather, like ice hockey or skating, snowboarding, or skiing

In most cases, these triggers can cause EIB symptoms to appear within a few minutes of physical activity, and they often improve once you rest for around 30 minutes. However, they can also start after your workout and even return up to 12 hours later, taking up to a day to subside completely.

Diagnosing and managing EIB

Even elite athletes have EIB, so you don’t have to let your symptoms slow you down.

First, it’s essential to see an expert for an asthma diagnosis. Our team can make this determination based on your symptoms and their triggers. We also listen to your lungs and assess their function with spirometry testing.

If you receive an EIB diagnosis, we can make personalized recommendations to help keep your symptoms under control. And don’t worry — that doesn’t mean sitting on the sidelines!

Common methods for managing exercise-induced bronchoconstriction include:

  • Warming up for at least six minutes before exercise
  • Checking air quality and pollen counts
  • Covering your mouth and nose to protect against dry, cold air
  • Trying indoor or less rigorous activities
  • Exercising in warm or humid environments

Our team could also suggest one or more medications to prevent symptoms or open your airways when they occur. And, if we learn you have asthma in addition to EIB, we can help you take steps to get those symptoms under control so they won’t cause more issues when you exercise.

Do you get asthma symptoms when you exercise? You can still enjoy sports and an active lifestyle. Contact Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology Associates in Tampa or Brandon, Florida, to schedule a consultation with one of our skilled experts today. You can use online booking as well.