Exercise-induced asthma is characterized by airways that are extremely sensitive to physical activity, which can result in symptoms such as wheezing and coughing. The symptoms generally last throughout the duration of physical activity and peak 5 to 10 minutes after ending physical activity, and then disappear within an hour. Ideally, these asthma attacks can be prevented by taking albuterol (a medication that opens the airways) before physical activity. Albuterol can also be effective as a treatment for this type of asthma attack.
Some individuals have exercise-induced asthma, which is a condition in which their airways are particularly sensitive to physical activity. Typically, a person at rest will breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth. During vigorous physical activity, more oxygen is needed, so a person will breathe in through the mouth to get more air into the lungs. The air moves more quickly down the airways and does not have time to be humidified or warmed. As a result, this cold, dry air can irritate the airways in some people.
Those who have been diagnosed with asthma have airways that may be sensitive to many triggers. Thus, a large majority of people with asthma will have symptoms when exercising if their asthma is not well controlled with medications. Those who have allergies may also be at increased risk for exercise-induced asthma. Individuals who do not have asthma or allergies can develop exercise-induced asthma, too.
The symptoms of exercise-induced asthma are similar to those of asthma alone:
- Difficulty breathing
- Chest tightness.
These symptoms usually occur soon after the beginning of exercise, typically within the first hour. They last throughout the duration of physical activity, peaking at 5 to 10 minutes after ending the physical activity, and then disappearing within an hour. These symptoms can be worse if the temperature is cool, the air has a low humidity, or if there is a high pollen count.
In children with exercise-induced asthma, other problems may occur, such as low self-esteem or embarrassment due to poor performance in sports.