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What is Exercise-Induced Asthma?

Exercise-induced asthma also known as exercise-induced bronchoconstriction (EIB) or sports-induced asthma is a condition characterized by obstruction of airflow immediately after a strenuous exercise. This condition may be seen in people with or without asthma due to the temporary constriction of the lower airways.

Causes of Exercise-Induced Asthma

Although the exact cause of exercise-induced asthma is unknown, some of the common factors that may play a role in the development of the condition include:

  • Exposure to air pollution
  • Smoking
  • Respiratory infection
  • Family history of asthma
  • Exposure to chemical fumes and paints
  • Dehydration in the lower airways
  • Exposure to pollen
  • Low air temperature
  • Allergic rhinitis
  • Problems with the vocal cords

Symptoms of Exercise-Induced Asthma

Symptoms of exercise-induced asthma are similar to chronic asthma. They include:

  • Wheezing
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Tightness in chest
  • Sore throat

Diagnosis of Exercise-Induced Asthma

Your doctor will review your medical history and symptoms and based on this a physical examination will be performed. Your doctor may also recommend the following diagnostic tests:

  • Spirometry /Lung function Test: A group of tests that help to assess whether your lungs are functioning properly. The tests involve taking a deep breath, holding it for a few seconds, and exhaling forcefully into a breathing mask.
  • Skin Testing: During this test, an allergen will be placed on your skin, usually on your arm or back to look for signs and symptoms of allergy. The results are tested after 48 hours.
  • CT Scan: This scan uses multiple X-rays to produce detailed cross-sectional images of the chest to evaluate the airways.
  • Chest X-rays: These are performed to assess an enlarged heart or any scarring in the lungs that might be causing the symptoms.
  • Exercise Test: This is performed to evaluate how breathing function is affected after exercise.

Treatment for Exercise-Induced Asthma

Treatment for exercise-induced asthma may vary based on the symptoms. Some of the common treatment measures include:

  • Medications
    • Short-acting Beta-agonist (SABA): These medications are also known as bronchodilators that act as rescue inhalers, which when inhaled result in the dilation of the constricted bronchi. This helps to relieve asthma symptoms.
    • Long-acting beta-agonist (LABA): This medication helps to keep your airways open by relaxing the muscles around them. The effect of the medication lasts for up to 10 to 12 hours.
    • Ipratropium: This medication, when inhaled, will relax the airways.
    • Inhaled corticosteroids: Your doctor may prescribe corticosteroids if SABA cannot relieve the symptoms. Steroids help to reduce inflammation in the airways.
    • Anticholinergics: These help to reduce inflammation and mucus production by blocking the neurotransmitter acetylcholine.
    • Mast cell stabilizers: These medications are inhaled 15 minutes prior to exercise in the form of tiny droplets through a nebulizer to help prevent symptoms.
    • Antihistamines: Your doctor will suggest over-the-counter antihistamines to relieve allergies that might be causing the symptoms.
  • Breathing exercise: This helps to improve lung function and breathing ability. Some of the common exercises are:
    • Diaphragmatic breathing: This breathing technique involves using your diaphragm and abdominal muscles to breathe.
    • Nasal breathing: This breathing technique involves consciously breathing through the nose only and not through the mouth.
    • Pursed lip breathing: This breathing technique involves exhaling through pursed lips while breathing.

Prevention from Exercise-Induced Asthma

Some of the common preventive measures to reduce exercise-induced asthma include:

  • Warm-up before exercise
  • Cover your nose and mouth while exercising in cold and dry weather
  • Manage asthma symptoms with appropriate treatment
  • Monitor your symptoms and avoid strenuous activity if symptoms worsen
  • Avoid conditions that trigger allergy
  • Limit your exercise level when having a viral infection