Updated 26 October 2017

Exercise-induced asthma

People who experience exercise-induced asthma can prevent this by using a number of medications.

People with asthma have a particular response to physical activity.

On the one hand, exercise can actually provoke asthma resulting in so-called exercise induced asthma (EIA).

While on the other, regular physical exercise and participation in sport are essential in successfully managing asthma, particularly in children and teenagers.

It is important that someone with asthma does not regard themselves as being limited by their condition. With the correct medication, asthma can be controlled to allow a perfectly normal life. This includes participation in exercise and sport, either purely for fun or to compete at the highest level.

EIA can cause the following symptoms: coughing, wheezing, chest tightness when breathing and shortness of breath.

Children or adults with EIA can show these symptoms within six to eight minutes of starting exercise. The first symptoms may be subtle: you feel you cannot run as fast as your friends, and then start disliking sport. Children's unwillingness to participate in sport (because this triggers the asthma) may lead to self-doubt, a low self-esteem and problems with other school friends and even teachers.

EIA can be controlled and managed well.

People who experience EIA can prevent this by using a number of medications. These include the short-acting relievers (bronchodilators) such as salbutamol, the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory cromoglycates and the newer drugs such as montelukast.

But many people who get EIA are worried about exercising because they fear that it will provoke an attack. In reality, however, fitness leads to a decrease in symptoms over time. Many of the symptoms of asthma - shortness of breath and wheezing - happen to anyone who is unfit and starting out on an exercise programme for the first time.

A low level of physical activity leads to a low level of fitness. Before deciding that you can’t exercise because of your asthma, discuss your concerns with your doctor. Remember to speak about medication, control and how to get fit slowly so that you minimise any discomfort.

Genuine EIA can be adequately controlled by taking two puffs of your bronchodilator inhaler (salbutamol) during the last half hour before you start exercising.

As you train, you will find that your symptoms decrease, since training strengthens your whole body including the muscles you use when breathing. Over time, this will reduce your feelings of breathlessness.

Read more:
Homoeopathic and other medication

National Asthma Education Programme (NAEP)
Allergy Society of South Africa (ALLSA)


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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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