Have you found yourself coughing, wheezing or feeling short of breath during or after exercise recently? If so, it may not just be due to being out of shape. It could be caused by Exercise Induced Asthma; also known as Exercise Induced Bronchospasm. Exercise Induced Asthma could be solely triggered by exercise, or due to a variety of other triggers. This, like other forms of asthma, occurs when airways in your lungs constrict and produce extra amounts of mucus, making it hard to breathe.
Symptoms of exercise-induced asthma include:
- Coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath while exercising
- Chest pain/tightness
- Fatigue during exercise
- Compromised athletic performance
These symptoms can start soon after you begin exercise, and can worsen up to 10-15 minutes after you finish.
Seek immediate medical treatment if your symptoms get worse, since exercise induced asthma can be life threatening in emergency situations:
- Shortness of breath quickly worsens
- No improvement even after using a rescue inhaler
- Shortness of breath continues even after recovery from your workout
There are no clear causes of exercise induced asthma, but factors that can provoke an attack are:
- Cold air
- Dry air
- Air pollution
- High pollen counts
- Respiratory infections such as colds
No particular exercise is totally forbidden, but those that make you breathe harder can be triggers. These include basketball, running, hockey and soccer versus weightlifting, golfing or moderate walking.
Exercise Asthma risk factors include:
- Already having asthma
- Hay fever or other allergies
- Having a parent or sibling with asthma
- Smoking or second hand smoke exposure
- Exposure to chemical triggers such as chlorine in pools
- Being a child (they tend to be more active than adults)
After being tested and diagnosed by your doctor, they may prescribe two kinds of medicine: Quick Relief and/or Long-Term Control medication.
- Quick Relief medication is for rapid, short-term symptom relief during an attack. Sometimes a doctor may recommend using it before exercise.
- Long-Term Control medication is for frequent asthma symptoms that occur even when you are not exercising or when using medicine before workouts does not help. They are taken daily.
If using both, it is suggested not to use the Quick Relief inhaler more than recommended. Get in the habit of recording the number of puffs you take per week. If you find that you need to use it more frequently, talk to your doctor to adjust your Long-Term Control medication.
The good news is that with treatment, you can do intense aerobic activity, along with avoiding causes of attacks by breathing through your nose, wearing a scarf over your nose and mouth, avoiding exercise when the air is polluted or dirty, avoiding exercising near recently mowed lawns, and warming up before exercise and cooling down after.
About Dr. Mason
Dr. Mason is an assistant professor in the Orthopaedics and Family Medicine departments at Emory University. He is board certified in Sports Medicine with a special interest in track and field, running injuries and exercise testing. He has been trained in diagnostic musculoskeletal ultrasound, orthopedic stem cell therapy and Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP) therapy. Dr. Mason is Team Physician for USA Track & Field, Tucker High School, and Georgia Tech Track and Field.
Dr. Mason is a member of the American College of Sports Medicine, the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine, the America Road Racing Medical Society, and the USA Track and Field Sports Medicine and Science Committee. He has been invited to be a resident physician at the US Olympic Training Center, a Sports Medicine consultant in his homeland of Jamaica and the Chief Medical Officer at multiple USA Track and Field international competitions. He is an annual speaker at the pre-race expo for PTRR, Publix marathon and Atlanta marathon commenting on a wide variety of topics related to athletics and running injuries.
Dr. Mason is an active member of the Atlanta running community. He attended Princeton University and was Captain of the track team. His other sports interests include soccer, college basketball and football, and the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA). A Decatur resident, he is married with three children.