Is Exercise-Induced Asthma Real or a Myth?

written by Dr. Bolanle Aina - Aug 28, 2023

Asthma is a respiratory condition that affects millions of people worldwide. It causes inflammation and narrowing of the airways, leading to symptoms like wheezing, coughing, and shortness of breath. While we know that asthma can be triggered by allergens and pollution, there's still a debate about whether exercise can also trigger asthma symptoms. Some people believe that exercise-induced asthma is just a myth. But in this article, we'll explore the truth behind exercise-induced asthma. We'll look at scientific research and expert opinions to help athletes with asthma understand their condition better and manage it effectively. Together we will discover the reality of exercise-induced asthma and debunk any misconceptions along the way.

Is Exercise-Induced Asthma Real?

Let's start with the truth. Yes, exercise-induced asthma (EIA) is a very real and documented condition. Also known as exercise-induced bronchoconstriction (EIB), this type of asthma is triggered by physical activity, especially during intense exercise. It affects both professional athletes and recreational enthusiasts, making it essential to recognize its symptoms and take appropriate measures. Although exercise does not cause asthma, it only acts as a trigger for asthma symptoms.

Is Exercise-Induced Asthma Real or a Myth?

How to Identify Exercise-Induced Asthma: Recognizing the Symptoms

Many people may be wondering “How is exercise-induced asthma different from regular asthma?” Recognizing exercise-induced asthma can be challenging, as its symptoms often overlap with regular asthma. With EIA, symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, and chest tightness usually occur during or after physical activity. Patients already diagnosed with asthma are more likely to develop EIA. Although, the condition may also occur in non-asthmatic individuals. Some people may confuse exercise-induced asthma with being out of shape because the symptoms are similar. However, only tests can determine which condition is present. A simple test called a "spirometry" can help diagnose exercise-induced asthma. It involves measuring lung function before and after exercise to assess any significant changes.

If you do not have asthma but experience asthma symptoms after exercises, your doctor will perform other tests to rule out other possible conditions with similar symptoms such as lung disease or heart disease

Common Triggers of Exercise-Induced Asthma

While asthma attacks can be triggered by a variety of factors, EIA is mostly caused by environmental conditions like cold or dry air causing loss of heat and/or water from the airway during strenuous activities. Wearing a loosely fitting scarf or mask when exercising in cold, dry air or exercising where the air is warmer and more humid can help prevent exercise-induced asthma symptoms. Some patients find that warm-up routines before intense exertion can help reduce asthma symptoms. Furthermore, if exercise or physical activity is being done in outdoors, other environmental conditions such as air pollution, poor air quality, pollen, chlorine in swimming pools can trigger or worsen symptoms. Cold, dry air and poor air quality plays a huge role in triggering EIA.

Best and Worst Exercises for Athletes with Asthma

Having asthma doesn't mean you have to shy away from sports. In fact, many famous athletes, such as Olympic gold medalist swimmer Amy Van Dyken and NBA star Dennis Rodman, have excelled in their sports despite their condition. Low-intensity exercises like swimming, cycling, or walking are generally considered asthma-friendly, as they involve steady breathing. Activities that involve short, intermittent periods of exertion, such as volleyball, gymnastics, baseball, walking, and wrestling, are generally well tolerated by people with exercise-induced asthma. On the other hand, high-intensity and anaerobic activities like ice hockey and NFL can pose challenges due to increased breathing rate and colder air exposure. Other sporting activities that can trigger asthma include soccer, skiing, ice skating and snowboarding.

Can You Play Sports If You Have Asthma?

The good news is that having asthma doesn't mean you have to give up your athletic dreams. With proper management, medication, and guidance from healthcare professionals, athletes with asthma can safely participate in sports and even achieve greatness. It's essential to work closely with your doctor and athletic trainers to develop an asthma action plan tailored to your specific needs.

How Long Can Exercise-Induced Asthma Last?

The duration of exercise-induced asthma symptoms can vary from person to person. Some may experience symptoms during and immediately after exercise (10-15 mins). In most cases, symptoms will go away after about an hour. Sometimes symptoms may reappear several hours (up to 12 hours) post-activity, known as late-response EIA. However, with the right approach and management, symptoms can be effectively controlled with inhalers and following recommended tips.

Dealing with Exercise-Induced Asthma: Tips to Breathe Easy

If you have exercise-induced asthma, you can still enjoy your favorite sports and stay active with some practical tips. Pre-treatment with a short-acting bronchodilator before exercise can help open up the airways and prevent symptoms. Warm-up before engaging in strenuous activity to prepare your lungs and gradually increase the intensity of your workout. Breath through your nose to keep stream of air going to your lungs moist and warm. Additionally, always have your rescue inhaler on hand during exercise, and listen to your body - if symptoms worsen, stop and rest. Always check air-quality before exercise outdoors for prolonged time. Avoid exercise when you are still recovering from common cold or flu and drink lots of water to keep hydrated.

Management for Exercise-Induced Asthma

The first line of treatment for exercise-induced asthma typically involves the use of bronchodilators, which are quick-relief medications that help open up the airways and alleviate symptoms. For prevention, bronchodilator inhalers such as Ventolin, Ventolin Diskus, Albuterol should be taken before exercise or vigorous activity to prevent symptoms. Inhaled corticosteroids such as Flovent, Breo Ellipta may also be prescribed for daily use to reduce airway inflammation and prevent symptoms from occurring. Make sure to review precautions on proper inhaler techniques to get the most out of your inhaler.


Exercise-induced asthma is not a myth - it's a real condition that affects many athletes and individuals who love being active. By understanding its symptoms, triggers, and management strategies, athletes with asthma can continue to thrive in their chosen sports and maintain a healthy and active lifestyle. Consult with your healthcare provider to develop an asthma action plan, which includes asthma medications, tailored to your specific needs, and never let asthma hold you back from pursuing your passions and achieving your athletic dreams. With proper management and a positive mindset, you can breathe easy and soar to new heights in both sports and life.



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While the above article is based on thorough research, we do not claim to offer a substitute for medical advice from a qualified healthcare provider. The article was written for information and educational purposes only. We aim to provide helpful information to our readers, but cannot provide a treatment, diagnosis, or consultation of any sort, and we are in no way indicating that any particular drug is safe or appropriate for you and your individual needs. To receive professional medical attention, you must see a doctor.