Updated 12 July 2016

Exercise-induced asthma: is your asthma controlled?

Know the asthma triggers that can also make EIB (exercise-induced bronchoconstriction) symptoms worse.


For most people, maintaining a fitness regime is complicated enough as it is. After all, life does tend to get in the way. But for patients who suffer from exercise-induced bronchoconstriction (EIB), there are added difficulties.

EIB: What is it?

EIB occurs when the tubes that bring air into and out of your lungs narrow during exercise, and it typically affects patients with asthma. People who don’t have asthma may suffer from it too.

EIB is also known as exercise-induced asthma (EIA). The preferred term is EIB, though, as EIA wrongly suggests that exercise causes asthma. Instead, exercise is often an asthma trigger. In the case of teens and young adults, EIB might be the most common cause of asthma symptoms.


EIB causes symptoms of asthma, which may include:

• Coughing

• Wheezing

• Chest tightness

• Shortness of breath

More often than not, symptoms won’t occur immediately at the beginning of an exercise session. Rather, they may start during the session and can become progressively worse five to 10 minutes after stopping.

Symptoms typically resolve within 30 minutes. Some sufferers may even feel a second wave, or “late-phase” of symptoms 4 to 12 hours after exercising. These are typically less severe, though, and can take up to 24 hours to settle.


Ever noticed that you normally inhale through your mouth when you exercise? Well, you do because your body needs to work harder, meaning it needs more oxygen to keep it going. Inhaling through your mouth allows you to breathe faster and deeper.

The trouble with mouth breathing is that it causes the air to be dryer and cooler than when you breathe through your nose. Dry and cold air trigger your airway to narrow, so exposure to it during exercise is more likely to cause asthma symptoms than exercising in warm, humid conditions.

These triggers can also make EIB symptoms worse:

• Pollution levels

• High pollen counts

• Exposure to irritants such as smoke and strong fumes

Controlling EIB

When looking to treat a medical condition, it’s always wise to consult a medical practitioner. But for EIB sufferers, here are a few standard remedies.


You can manage EIB by using various types of medication. Talk to a medical practitioner about the benefits linked with them.


It may be wise to exercise less when you have a viral infection, pollen or air pollution levels are high, or when temperatures are low. It’s also a good idea to do warm-ups and cool-downs as they may help lessen EIB symptoms.

Low endurance exercise like swimming in a warm, humid environment or walking, as well as activities that require short bursts of exercise (like volleyball or gymnastics) are good options for EIB sufferers. Sports that require constant activity (like soccer) may not be.

Children with EIB

With children back at school, cricket, swimming and summer sporting activities are back on the agenda. In addition to seeking advice from a medical practitioner, tell teachers and coaches if your child suffers from EIB. And remember, with the proper care, your child can thoroughly enjoy summer, sports and life in general.

Read more:
Asthma fact sheet
Your 10-point action plan to manage asthma


Ask the Expert

Asthma Expert

Professor Keertan Dheda has received of several prestigious awards including the 2014 Oppenheimer Award, and has published over 160 peer-reviewed papers and holds 3 patents related to new TB diagnostic or infection control technologies. He serves on the editorial board of the journals PLoS One, the International Journal of Tuberculosis and Lung Disease, American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Medicine, Lancet Respiratory Diseases and Nature Scientific Reports, amongst others.Read his full biography at the University of Cape Town Lung Institute

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