Exercise Induced Asthma (E.I.A.)

Exercise is a common trigger for asthma and may cause symptoms in 80 to 90% of asthmatics. Some of the symptoms that may occur are:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing
  • Coughing
  • Chest tightness

The symptoms usually start about 10 minutes into the exercise or 5 to 10 minutes after completing the activity. Some people experience a late onset asthmatic reaction about 4 to 8 hours after exercise. The frequency of E.I.A. has led to the misconception that asthmatics cannot exercise. Athletic activities will not cure or treat the asthma itself. However, there are benefits to your heart, circulatory system, muscles (including breathing muscles), and mental health.

Swimming is one of the best exercises for those with E.I.A. Breathing the usually warm, humid air prevents cooling and drying of the airways. Rapid breathing of cold, dry air is a very potent stimulus of bronchospasm in asthmatics. Therefore, outdoor winter sports, such as skiing, may be the most problematic. It is best to choose a sport that does not require continuous vigorous outdoor exercise such as running, bicycling, or cross-country skiing. Sports that involve short bursts of exertion interspersed with rest periods would be preferable. Tennis, golf, baseball, and volleyball are among the sports meeting this description. The resting periods allow the airways to recover, which usually prevents the onset of E.I.A.

We recommend you always check with your health care professional before beginning an exercise program. For more details, please read the Asthma Complexities article.


Last Editorial Review: 4/5/2002