Exercise-induced asthma


Exercise-induced asthma, also known as sports-induced asthma, is a condition in which the airways narrow or constrict during intense physical activity. This can result in various symptoms such as wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath, and others, both during and after exercise. This condition is also known as exercise-induced bronchoconstriction.

Exercise-induced asthma can affect both individuals with and without asthma. When this condition is triggered by exercise, it can make breathing difficult.

People with exercise-induced bronchoconstriction can still participate in physical activity and remain active as long as they manage their symptoms. To prevent an episode of exercise-induced asthma, they can warm up before exercising and use inhalers or other medications to open up their airways.


Symptoms of exercise-induced bronchoconstriction typically appear during or shortly after exercise. If left untreated, these symptoms may last for an hour or longer. These signs include:

  • Wheezing
  • Coughing
  • Difficulty of breathing
  • Pain in the chest, discomfort or tightness
  • Exhaustion during exercise
  • A less impressive athletic effort than anticipated.
  • Avoidance of physical activity, which is particularly common in young children.

If you experience exercise-induced bronchoconstriction, it is important to consult your doctor for a diagnosis as soon as possible. This is because some illnesses can produce similar symptoms.

You should seek immediate medical attention if you experience any of the following:

  • Difficulty breathing due to rapidly worsening shortness of breath or wheezing.
  • If your asthma episodes do not improve even after using a prescription inhaler.


When exercising, the increased breathing through the mouth can cause the airways to narrow and become constricted, leading to breathing difficulties. This may be exacerbated by cold and dry air, which lacks moisture and can cause dehydration of the air passages. Other irritants such as chemicals, allergens, and air pollution may also contribute to exercise-induced bronchoconstriction. The exact cause of this condition is not fully understood, but increased breathing during exercise may exacerbate symptoms by irritating the airways.

Risk factors

The likelihood of exercise-induced bronchoconstriction is higher in:

  • People with asthma. 90% of asthmatics have bronchoconstriction during exercise. However, individuals without asthma are also susceptible to the condition.
  • Sport induced asthma. Individuals with asthma may experience symptoms more frequently when engaging in certain sports. These include:
    • Endurance sports: Activities that demand continuous physical effort such as long-distance running, soccer, basketball, and other endurance sports may require athletes to breathe heavily and steadily, without much opportunity for rest, potentially triggering asthma symptoms.
    • Cold weather sports: Sports that take place in cold weather conditions, like skiing, ice hockey, ice skating, and snowboarding, may also increase the likelihood of asthma symptoms due to the cold air temperatures.

The following are some triggers or risk factors for the condition:

  • Dry or cold air
  • Air pollution
  • Increase pollen in the air
  • Swimming pools containing chlorine
  • Recovering from respiratory illnesses
  • Scents from fresh furniture, paint, or carpet in a gym
  • Long-duration breathing exercises like long-distance running, swimming, or soccer