Exercise is an important factor in staying fit and healthy. Sometimes, however, exercise can be a trigger for asthma. When exercise results in temporary narrowing of the airways in an asthmatic person, it is referred to as Exercise-Induced Asthma (EIA). With careful management and control, people with asthma don’t have to stop or restrict any of their usual activities.
Usually when you breathe, your nose warms, moistens, and filters the air going into your airways. When exercising, you breathe faster through your mouth, thereby cutting out the function of your nose. This means that the air going into your airways is colder and drier, which can cause irritation and make the muscles around the airways tighten.
Depending on their fitness level, most people experience shortness of breath during exercise. If you experience asthma symptoms during or after exercise and they don’t improve after 10 minutes of resting, it may be a sign that you have Exercise-Induced Asthma (EIA). These symptoms include:
While people who experience the usual breathlessness of exercising will catch their breath after resting, someone with EIA can experience symptoms for 15-30 minutes if left untreated.
The conditions of exercise generally determine how severe your symptoms are. In most cases, the drier and colder the air, the worse your symptoms will be. More vigorous types of exercise will also cause symptoms to be more severe.
Although asthma is an incurable condition, it is very manageable. In fact, there are many well-known athletes who have managed their asthma so that they can compete at an elite level. In order to develop the most effective management plan, you should see a doctor for an accurate diagnosis and the best advice on treatment.
If you follow your doctor’s advice and control your asthma with the prescribed amount of preventer medication, you may cease to experience symptoms resulting from exercise. Your doctor or nurse may also prepare an Asthma Action Plan with you that will clearly instruct you on how to control your asthma. Following this Action Plan carefully will help you to reduce the risk of an asthma attack and reduce your symptoms as much as possible.
If you experience exercise-induced asthma while exercising you should:
To learn more about first aid management for asthma, read the Australian Resuscitation Council's guideline on First Aid for Asthma. You can also head to our Resource Library for additional details on managing your asthma.
Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only. It does not constitute, replace, or qualify as any form of first aid training.