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How to Breathe Easier When Exercising

Allergy and Asthma image

Are you or someone you care about running into breathing difficulties when playing sports or working out? Exercise-induced bronchoconstriction, or EIB, is a serious but treatable condition that affects as many as 9 in 10 people with asthma, as well as 10 percent of people without it. Get back in the game by knowing your risk and taking steps to prevent symptoms.

What is EIB?
EIB causes the linings of the lungs’ airways to become inflamed and swollen during or after exercise. Muscle spasms constrict airflow, making it difficult to breathe. Symptoms include shortness of breath, wheezing or noisy breathing, coughing, trouble getting a breath, chest tightness, and unusual fatigue. Symptoms may start after a few minutes of hard, continuous exercise, or may not appear until several minutes after you stop.

People with EIB and asthma should not have to stop exercising if their condition is properly treated

About 80 percent to 90 percent of the 23 million adults with asthma, including 7 million children, have EIB. One in 10 members of the general population has EIB, too. The condition also is common among elite athletes who exercise strenuously over prolonged periods.

Can I still exercise?
People with EIB and asthma should not have to stop exercising if their condition is properly treated to prevent symptoms before they occur.

What causes EIB?
Rapid breathing during exercise can cause the airways to dry out and become irritated. As a result, the airways actually get smaller, and it’s hard to get air in and out of your lungs. This is more likely to happen when you exercise in cold, dry air, or when there is a sudden change in temperature or humidity. Breathing through the mouth, which does not warm and humidify the air like the nose, can make symptoms worse.

How is EIB diagnosed?
It is important that people with EIB or EIB with asthma see an allergist to be diagnosed and treated early to help prevent damage to the lungs. When EIB is the only symptom of asthma, it may be hard to diagnose, since coughing or shortness of breath during exercise may have many causes. See a doctor when

  • breathing difficulties are interfering with daily activities.
  • breathing problems are decreasing quality of life.
  • warning signs of asthma are present, including shortness of breath; wheezing or coughing, especially at night or after exercise; tightness in the chest; or frequent attacks of breathlessness, despite previous diagnosis and treatment for asthma.

Click here to learn more about free asthma and EIB screenings being conducted in May 2011.

Source: American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology,

This article was originally published in Coping® with Allergies & Asthma magazine, March/April 2011.