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When Working Out Triggers Asthma

Estimated read time: 2-3 minutes

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Five to 20 minutes into activity, you start coughing, wheezing, or feeling tightness in your chest. There's a possibility you may have exercise-induced asthma.

With exercise-induced asthma, the airways temporarily narrow, making it difficult for air to move out of the lungs. Researchers suspect that loss of water or heat or both from the airways causes this condition.

Exercise-induced asthma is hardly rare. About 18 million people in the United States have it.

It doesn't mean having to abandon exercise or sports entirely.

There are many elite athletes, some of them Olympians, with this condition. A study showed that nearly a quarter of athletes who competed in the 1998 Winter Olympics had exercise-induced asthma, according to a report from the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAI). They were able to maintain a high level of fitness because they were given appropriate treatment.

A bout of exercise-induced asthma can continue 10 minutes after stopping exercise, and symptoms may disappear on their own after about an hour.

It's crucial to get an accurate diagnosis first, followed by a treatment plan that takes into account your active lifestyle.

If you or a loved one has exercise-induced asthma and want to continue being active, here's what you should know, according to the AAAI:

A 15-minute warm-up may help. Researchers have yet to agree on what type of warm-up, though. Some researchers believe short bursts of high-intensity exercise are better, while others recommend more continuous, moderate activity.

Medications can be used before beginning activity to prevent symptoms. Some types of medications need to be taken five to 30 minutes beforehand, others two hours. The protective effect can last from two to three hours for some, up to 24 hours for others. A specialist can determine the appropriate medication for you.

Competitive athletes need to check with their coaches and athletic organizations to find out if any of these medications are banned in their sport.

Cooling down gradually can also make exercise-induced asthma less severe.

If you have allergies, reduce your exposure to your allergy triggers such as dust mites, pollen and dander. These allergens can aggravate exercise-induced asthma.

There are many sports and activities that are less likely to trigger exercise-induced asthma. They include: swimming, walking, hiking, downhill skiing, baseball, football, wrestling, golfing, gymnastics, volleyball, tennis, short-distance activities.

For more information, go to: Type exercise-induced in the search field.


(Lisa Liddane is a health and fitness writer for The Orange County Register and an American Council on Exercise-certified group fitness instructor. Write to her at the Register, P.O. Box 11626, Santa Ana, Calif. 92711 or send e-mail to


(c) 2004, The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.). Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.


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