Can You Exercise With Exercise-Induced Asthma?

Medically Reviewed on 3/9/2022
Can you exercise with exercise-induced asthma
You can continue exercise and normal physical activity even after being diagnosed with exercise-induced asthma (EIA).

You can continue exercise and normal physical activity even after being diagnosed with exercise-induced asthma (EIA). You can prevent the onset of symptoms of EIA while performing any physical activity by taking medications and appropriate preventive measures and performing exercises that are best suited for your condition.

  • Although EIA sounds frightening, it is a treatable illness. When correctly controlled, EIA does not have any significant effect on your workout program.
  • You can highly benefit from exercises because they improve the functionality of your lungs by strengthening the respiratory muscles in the chest.
  • Moreover, exercises increase blood flow to the heart and lungs, reduce inflammation in the airways, and keep you fit.

Best exercises for exercise-induced asthma

You can perform the following exercises if you have EIA:

  • Less strenuous activities
    • Activities that require comparatively less exertion than other sports include:
    • Although it may sound that running might not be a safe sport if you have EIA, safe running may ease asthma symptoms by improving lung functionality.
  • Swimming
    • Although swimming sounds to be worrisome considering the wet and humid air around you, swimming reduces the risk of EIA. Warm water in the pool helps improve breathing and prevent EIA. It is a good sport to keep yourself fit while not having the fear of possible EIA.
    • However, too much exposure to chlorine can irritate your airway. Saltwater pools are best suited for such instances.
  • Exercises with short burst energy
    • Exercises or activities where a short burst of energy is used as you perform short sprints followed by downtime to rest in between the sport include:
      • Baseball
      • Volleyball
      • Jogging
      • Football
  • Indoor activities
    • Gymnastics do not trigger EIA and are safe to be performed.
    • It is recommended to consult with your doctor before performing these activities to know which activity suits you best. You must carry your asthma pump or inhaler whenever you are exercising.


Asthma is a chronic respiratory disease. See Answer

What is exercise-induced asthma and how is it different from asthma?

Exercise-induced asthma (EIA) is also known as exercise-induced bronchoconstriction or exercise-induced bronchospasm. EIA is caused when the muscles surrounding your airways constrict or spasm (narrow) making it difficult to breathe while performing any physical activity.

Asthma is a condition that leads to breathing difficulty following bronchoconstriction or bronchospasm, which is often due to exposure to allergens such as dust, pollen, smoke, pet dander, bacterial or viral infections, and many others. It is a chronic disease seen among all age groups and sex.

Asthma attacks are usually prevented by taking measures to keep asthma triggers at bay and using inhalational bronchodilators, especially during a possible asthma attack.

  • EIA affects between 5 and 20 percent of the population. It is noted that if you have EIA, you may have chronic asthma, which is triggered by various causes.
  • About 10 percent of the population with EIA do not have chronic asthma and only have asthma symptoms when they exercise.

Not everyone with EIA knows that they have it or experience any difficulty breathing during exercises. Many Olympians and other high-level athletes, professional soccer, and football players, especially those who train or perform in cold air, do have EIA. Many athletes with EIA do not know if they have EIA and symptoms occur while performing. They always think that they are out of shape or the symptoms are part of the exertion.

Even after an attack of asthma, some continue to perform irrespective of the uneasiness it causes because of the following:

  • Although shortness of breath is usually experienced during the early stages of the exercise, some people may experience worsening symptoms 5 to 10 minutes after they stop the exercise.
  • Breathing difficulties normally go away within 20 to 30 minutes of ceasing exercise.

Along with low air temperature, EIA may be triggered by allergens and viral infections that are well-known to cause asthma.

6 signs and symptoms of exercise-induced asthma

Six signs that indicate you have exercise-induced asthma (EIA) include:

  1. Tightness in the chest and throat: Your chest may feel restricted as if you are unable to take deep breaths or get enough oxygen into your lungs. Your throat may stiffen. Stop exercising and take a deep breath if this occurs. If you are already diagnosed with EIA, then take medication to improve your symptoms before resuming the exercise. However, you are advised to give your body some rest that allows oxygen distribution throughout the body, which was depleted earlier.
  2. Exhaustion following exercise: Exercise usually provides you with energy and improves your endurance. If you feel fatigued following an exercise, then it may indicate EIA. You may be unaware that you are out of breath and need extra oxygen and misinterpret it as fatigue. Fatigue can occur in the absence of symptoms in your airways. However, fatigue is seen in rare cases, and you usually feel exhausted along with respiratory issues.
  3. Cough during exercise: The most common symptoms of EIA are coughing and shortness of breath. However, you may be unaware that coughing is a result of asthma. These symptoms may appear a few minutes after you begin exercising, or they may develop after 20 to 30 minutes. You may not feel right immediately after you begin running because, with the increased speed of running, your body works harder to keep up with the pace. This increases the demand for oxygen by the body. Later, you may even start gasping for oxygen under harsh situations.
  4. More time to recover following physical activity: If you have EIA, recovery intervals after exercise might range from 30 minutes to an hour, depending on the severity of the illness. Consult your doctor about obtaining a short-acting inhaler to take 15 minutes before exercise. If this does not work, you may develop chronic asthma and require daily medication.
  5. Conditions of the climate around you: If you perform exercises or any physical activity in a cool climate and if the air you inhale is cooler than your body temperature, it can cause bronchospasm, leading to EIA. Your lungs are more in danger if you live in an extremely cold or dry region.
  6. Living in a high-pollen area: Respiratory allergens such as pollen can cause bronchoconstriction and cause unpleasant asthmatic symptoms that interfere with your workout. Working out in the spring, when allergies are at their peak, can aggravate asthma symptoms.

You may experience EIA symptoms shortly after starting an activity or even during rest post activity, such as:

Similar symptoms are seen with acute asthma attacks; however, EIA involves strenuous activity, an asthma attack may occur even while you are at rest when exposed to allergens.

According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, the degree of symptoms varies greatly from person to person. Coughing and other symptoms may begin during activity, intensify 5 to 10 minutes after your workout, and then normally recover 20 to 30 minutes later. However, you may get a second wave of milder symptoms 4 to 12 hours following activity, which usually resolves within 24 hours.

How to diagnose exercise-induced asthma

  • Physical examination:
    • Symptoms and triggers of asthma vary from person to person. To make a diagnosis, the doctor takes a complete medical history, especially emphasizing conditions when the symptoms of asthma are triggered. This helps distinguish if the symptoms are caused by exercise-induced asthma (EIA) or asthma.
  • Pulmonary function test:
    • A pulmonary test is done to determine the functionality of your lungs. This test detects possible inflammation in your airways. The doctor asks you to blow into a tube, which is attached to a computer on the other end. The computer measures your air and determines how well your lungs function and detect possible asthma.
    • A pulmonary function test may be done after you run for a while on a treadmill to check for any significant drop in lung functions. If this test detects a fall in lung functionality, then it indicates the presence of EIA or asthma.
  • Allergy tests:
    • If the doctor suspects allergy-induced asthma along with EIA, they may order tests to detect any possible allergies caused by allergens such as pollen, dust mites, pets, and mold.
    • If they suspect that another issue such as a heart condition is causing your EIA-like symptoms, they may conduct additional tests.

Subscribe to MedicineNet's Allergy and Asthma Newsletter

By clicking "Submit," I agree to the MedicineNet Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policy. I also agree to receive emails from MedicineNet and I understand that I may opt out of MedicineNet subscriptions at any time.

3 treatment options for exercise-induced asthma

Treatment options for exercise-induced asthma (EIA) include:

  1. Medications:
    • Medications such as inhalational bronchodilators that open the airways to facilitate proper breathing may be useful in treating EIA.
    • Some drugs are given 15 minutes before exercise to prevent possible EIA that occurs while exercising or a few hours following exercise.
    • Your doctor may prescribe a long-acting inhaler with steroids or an asthma pill, which is to be taken regularly to offer long-term control.
    • Your doctor may prescribe pain relievers if symptoms occur unexpectedly.
    • Your doctor will advise you on the best medication for your specific problem.
  2. Lifestyle modifications: Lifestyle changes are significant.
    • Changing your jogging environment based on triggers can help you avoid flare-ups.
    • If it's cold outside, put on a face mask or cover your mouth and nose with a scarf to keep the air warm.
    • Breathe through your nose because it filters the air better than your mouth. 
    • Prefer to exercise indoors if it is cold outside.
  3. Avoid allergens: It is important to check for the pollen count in your surroundings. 
    • Keep in mind that dry, windy days are typically harsher than rainy days.
    • Try to avoid going out on windy days or take preventive measures such as wearing a mask when you go out.
    • Pollution triggers asthma, so take measures to protect yourself from pollution.

What are the best preventive measures for exercise-induced asthma?

Managing exercise-induced asthma (EIA) can be done through the following preventive measures:

  • Continue medications as prescribed by your doctor.
  • Avoid intense exercise, especially if you experience any symptoms of asthma.
  • Always perform warm-up exercises and stretches before beginning with the actual workout.
  • Keep yourself warm and indulge in physical activities that give you a resting period in between.
  • Always cover your lower face with a scarf or mask as you go outside in cold weather.
  • Always use an inhalable bronchodilator medicine before performing any physical activity and discontinue activity if you feel the need of taking additional medication.
  • Take slower breaths with the nose rather than the mouth.

If you experience worsening of symptoms even after taking medicine or medicine is unavailable to you, immediately seek emergency services for support to prevent complications.

Health Solutions From Our Sponsors

Medically Reviewed on 3/9/2022
Image Source: iStock Images

Exercise-Induced Asthma:

Exercise-Induced Asthma: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment and More:

4 Signs Of Exercise-Induced Asthma Every Runner Should Know: