Exercise asthma: Cough and shortness of breath after exercise

Exercise asthma (exercise-related bronchoconstriction) is a condition in which the airways in the lungs are narrowed and inflamed after vigorous or prolonged exercise or physical exertion. Cough, shortness of breath and tightness in the chest are some signs of asthma caused by exercise. Exercise is important for everyone, also for patients with asthma caused by physical activity. Thanks to a few tips, it is still possible for patients with this chronic disorder to exercise.
  • Causes of exercise asthma
  • Risk factors of exercise-related bronchoconstriction
  • Symptoms of asthma caused by exercise
  • Diagnosis and investigations
  • Treatment and prevention
  • Cold
  • Medication
  • Warm up and cool down
  • Weather, pollen and air pollution
  • Disease
  • Tips for exercising
  • Prognosis of narrowing and inflammation of airways in the lungs

Causes of exercise asthma

During normal breathing, the inhaled air is first warmed and moistened through the nostrils. When exercising, breathing is faster and deeper due to the increased oxygen requirement of the body. A person usually breathes through the mouth, making the air drier and cooler than when a person breathes through the nose. In exercise asthma, the muscle bands around the airways are sensitive to these changes in temperature and humidity and they respond by contracting, which narrows the airways. It is unclear in May 2019 why this narrowing and inflammation of the airways in the lungs arises after heavy physical exertion.

Risk factors of exercise-related bronchoconstriction

The triggering factors of exercise-related bronchoconstriction are:
  • asthma: 90% of patients with asthma suffer from this condition, but people without asthma sometimes also suffer from exercise asthma.
  • exposure to other irritants, such as smoke and strong vapors
  • chemicals used by ice rink renewal equipment
  • chlorine in swimming pools
  • dry air: The dry and / or cold air is the most important triggering factor for airway constriction (bronchoconstriction). Exercises that expose a patient to cold, dry air lead to more asthma symptoms than exercise with warm and humid air.
  • a recent cold or asthma episode
  • high pollen numbers
  • air pollution

Athletes who exercise at a high level also often have asthma caused by exercise.
A tight chest feeling is one of the possible signs / Source: Pexels, Pixabay

Symptoms of asthma caused by exercise

The symptoms of exercise asthma generally start within five to ten minutes after the start of exercise or five to ten minutes after the short workout is stopped. If a patient experiences any of these symptoms during exercise, he must inform the doctor.
A patient with exercise asthma suffers from the following possible signs:
  • want to avoid activities (especially with young children)
  • chest tightness
  • cough (most common, sometimes the only symptom)
  • shortness of breath when exercising
  • unusual fatigue during exercise
  • worse than expected sports performance
  • wheezing (wheezing when exhaling

Diagnosis and investigations

A thorough medical history is needed to make a diagnosis. In addition, the doctor measures breathing before, during and after exercise to test lung functions (spirometry).

Treatment and prevention

A patient should not avoid physical activity when suffering from exercise asthma. There are measures that he can take to prevent asthma symptoms that will allow him to maintain normal physical activity.


Patients should wear a scarf over the nose and mouth or exercise indoors if possible in cold and dry weather.


By using asthma inhalers or bronchodilators (airway wideners) prior to exercise, it is possible to control and prevent asthma symptoms. The patient preferably takes short-acting medication. He takes these medicines ten minutes before exercise. They prevent the airways from contracting or help relax the airways and keep control of asthma caused by exercise. Furthermore, the patient must use other medications through the correct route of administration and according to the instructions given by the doctor.

Warm up and cool down

It is wise to warm up before training. Patients also cool off after exercise. These recommendations also help prevent asthma.

Weather, pollen and air pollution

Patients with allergies and asthma should limit training during days with a lot of pollen or at an extremely low temperature and a lot of air pollution.


Since infections (such as colds, flu, sinusitis) may also lead to an asthma attack and the number of complaints increases, patients should best avoid physical exercise when they are sick

Tips for exercising

Opt for short, periodic periods of effort
Maintaining an active lifestyle is important for both physical and mental health. For patients with exercise asthma, some activities are better than others. Activities with short, periodic periods of exercise, such as volleyball, gymnastics, baseball, running and wrestling, are generally well tolerated by patients with exercise asthma.
No long periods of effort
Activities that require long periods of exercise, such as football, distance running, basketball and field hockey, are more difficult for patients, as are sports in cold weather such as ice hockey, cross-country skiing and ice skating. However, many patients with asthma can fully participate in these activities. Swimming, which is a strong endurance sport, is generally better tolerated by patients with asthma because it is usually performed in a warm, humid air environment.

Prognosis of narrowing and inflammation of airways in the lungs

The symptoms usually disappear within twenty to thirty minutes and range from mild to severe.

Video: Asthma Myth: Playing sports and exercising with asthma (February 2020).

Leave Your Comment