Recognizing Signs Of Exercise-Induced Asthma

By MaryAnn DePietro, CRT. May 7th 2016

When someone has trouble breathing during exercise, it may be due to a lack of exercise endurance. For others, trouble breathing during or after exercise is caused by exercised-induced asthma. Asthma is a lung condition that causes difficulty breathing due to inflammation and bronchospasm of the airways. Various things can trigger symptoms, such as exposure to allergens, respiratory infections and stress. When symptoms are triggered by physical exertion, such as exercise, the condition is referred to as exercise-induced asthma. It is essential to know the difference between shortness of breath from lack of exercise endurance and having exercise-induced asthma. With proper understanding of exercise-induced asthma, treatment and prevention of symptoms is possible.

What Is Exercised-Induced Asthma?

Exercise-induced asthma is also known as exercise-induced bronchospasm, since it causes the airways to constrict. Medical tests, such as lung function tests performed before and after exercise may help confirm a diagnosis.

Various types of exercise may trigger symptoms. Some people have an increase in the likelihood of symptoms developing if they exercise in cold weather or when pollen counts are high. Exercised-induced asthma can occur in people of all ages. According to The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA), exercise is the most common trigger of asthma symptoms in younger adults and teens.

Signs And Symptoms To Watch Out For

One of the main symptoms of exercised-induced asthma is shortness of breath during and after exercise. Shortness of breath may develop a few minutes after exercise has started and continue throughout the exercise session. For some, shortness of breath may even continue after exercise is over for several minutes. Although many people may get short of breath during exercise because they are out of shape, asthma symptoms are more severe. There are other symptoms and signs, which can occur with asthma triggered by exercise including the following:

  • Wheezing: This is a very common symptom of all types of asthma including exercised-induced. It is caused by the airways constricting.
  • Chest tightness: Tightness of the chest can develop from the constriction in the airways.
  • Coughing: Increased mucus production, which often occurs with asthma can cause an increase in coughing.
  • Increased heart and respiratory rate: As the body works harder to breath, it is common for the heart rate and respiratory rate to increase. Having a difficult time breathing is frightening and can cause anxiety, which also causes the heart and respiratory rate to climb.
  • Decreased peak expiatory flow measurement: A peak flow measures how much air a person can blow out of their lungs. A small, portable peak flow meter can be used at home. When symptoms flare-up, a person’s peak flow measurement is usually decreased.


The main treatment for exercise-induced asthma is taking bronchodilators, such as albuterol. Usually bronchodilators are taken through an inhaler or though a nebulized breathing treatment. Short-acting bronchodilators are often referred to as rescue medications and are used to treat exercise-induced asthma. The medication is referred to as a rescue medication, because it acts quickly to reduce symptoms.

People who develop symptoms of exercise-induced asthma may have addition medications prescribed. Inhaled steroids taken daily may reduce attacks from occurring. This may be recommended if exercised induced asthma symptoms develop frequently.


In many instances, symptoms may be controlled by taking a fast-acting bronchodilator. However, symptoms can continue and increase in some cases. Status asthmaticus develops when symptoms are not controlled and become worse. The condition can become life threatening and emergency treatment is needed.

In addition to medical complication of asthma induced by exercise, decreased athletic or exercise performance and a fear of exercising may occur.

Prevention of Exercised-Induced Asthma

There are several things a person can do to prevent a flare-up of symptoms. The same short-acting bronchodilator used to treat asthma symptoms when they start can be taken about 15 minutes prior to exercise to prevent symptoms. If short-acting bronchodilators are not enough to prevent symptoms, a long-acting bronchodilator, such as Salmeterol may help when taken about a half hour before exercise begins. It is important to understand long-acting bronchodilators are not intended to treat symptoms once they start.

In addition to medication, people with exercised-induced asthma should be sure to warm up for a minimum of 10 minutes before starting more vigorous exercise. Some people may also find they should avoid exercising outside when weather is very cold, or there is high pollen or other allergen counts. Young people, especially teens and children should tell their coaches about their condition.

Exercised induced asthma is not something to be ignored, although having the condition is not a reason to limit exercise or participation in sports. While it is always advisable to consult a physician, most people with exercised-induced asthma are usually able to do all types of exercise. With proper education on asthma and prevention of symptoms, it is possible to enjoy exercise and physical fitness.


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