Don’t Be Sidelined by Exercise-Induced Asthma

Don’t Be Sidelined by Exercise-Induced Asthma

David Beckham is one of the best-known soccer players of all time. Roy Hibbert is a two-time NBA All-Star. Swimmer Amy Van Dyken is a six-time Olympic gold medalist. What do these athletes all have in common? 

They all live with asthma. Beckham has been managing his asthma since he was a young boy. Hibbert wasn’t diagnosed until he was well into his NBA career. Van Dyken joined a swim team to live a more active life with asthma. 

With the help of a doctor, you can be active even though you’ve been diagnosed with asthma. Exercise can help you stay healthy and control your symptoms.

What’s the link between asthma and exercise?

Physical activity can bring on an asthma attack called exercise-induced asthma (EIA). Experts say 90 percent of people dealing with chronic asthma also experience EIA. Symptoms include chest tightness, shortness of breath, coughing and wheezing. These symptoms may occur within the first few minutes of exercise or right after stopping a workout. They can last for an hour or longer, and may lead to an asthma attack.

Are some exercises more likely to cause an attack?

Some high-intensity activities are more likely to trigger EIA. Basketball, soccer, running and cycling are a few examples. Activities in cold, dry air, such as cross-country skiing and ice-skating, can cause a bout of EIA, too.

How should an athlete manage asthma?

The Cleveland Clinic leaving site icon notes a proper warm-up can make a big difference in whether you run into breathing trouble during exercise.

How can you reduce your risk?

Exercise-induced asthma is a chronic health problem that you can manage. Your doctor may give you a pre-exercise medicine to help prevent symptoms. It’s also important to follow these tips:

  • Warm up for several minutes by stretching and running in place.
  • Check your asthma with your peak-flow meter before you exercise.
  • Exercise indoors during cold weather. If you do exercise outdoors, breathe through your nose and cover your face with a mask.
  • Use quick-acting medicine from your doctor if your asthma gets worse. Your doctor may also recommend a quick-acting medication before exercise as part of your Asthma Action Plan. 
  • Avoid working out when your symptoms aren’t under control, or when you have a cold or other infection.
  • Exercise indoors when air pollution and airborne allergens such as pollen are at high levels.
  • Cool down slowly after your workout. Don’t stop suddenly. Instead, stretch or jog for several minutes.

Having asthma doesn’t mean you have to miss out on the fun or healthy benefits of an active lifestyle. Talk with your doctor about activities that are best for you and your asthma management.

Sources: Exercise-Induced Asthma, leaving site icon Cleveland Clinic, 2021; 7 Tips to Overcome Asthma When You Exerciseleaving site icon Cleveland Clinic, 2021.

Originally published 9/7/2016; Revised 2020, 2021, 2022