It is common to be short of breath during exercise. However, there are instances where airflow obstruction occurs because of exercise, or during heavy physical exertion. This condition is termed as exercise-induced asthma, or exercise-induced bronchoconstriction.
Symptoms of exercise-induced asthma tend to begin soon after exercise, and may worsen when the activity is halted. Its warning signs include:
- Chest tightness
- Fatigue during exercise
What causes exercise-induced asthma?
People who are susceptible to exercise-induced asthma tend to be sensitive to both dry air and low temperatures. Air is warmed and humidified when breathing is done through the nose. However, during exercise, the increased demands of the body lead to faster and deeper breathing, and even breathing through the mouth. This results in dry, cold air reaching the lower airways and the lungs. This is usually the main trigger for airway narrowing (bronchoconstriction), leading to exercise-induced asthma. Other triggers include:
- Air pollution
- Exposure to irritants such as chemical fumes or smoke
Wheezing or tightness in the chest can be dangerous. If you experience the above symptoms and suspect that you may have exercise-induced asthma, you should consult your doctor. A medical evaluation can rule out other conditions such as allergies and cardiac or respiratory disorders. To accurately diagnose the condition, you may be recommended to undergo tests such as running on a treadmill and spirometry (lung function testing).
Should I avoid exercise if I am diagnosed with exercise-induced asthma?
Having exercise induced-asthma does not mean that you should stop exercising. Rather, you should consider the following options that may help you prevent symptoms from occurring:
- Take at least 10 minutes to perform a proper warm-up before strenuous exercise
- Practise breathing through the nose, which helps to warm and humidify the air that enters the lungs
- Avoid exercise when having a cold, flu or sinusitis
Upon a diagnosis of exercise-induced asthma, your doctor may develop a customised treatment plan for your lifestyle needs. You may also be given medication such as an asthma inhaler. Speak to your doctor to understand the treatment options available.