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What Is Exercise-Induced Bronchoconstriction?

August 23, 2019
What Is Exercise-Induced Bronchoconstriction?
If you’ve ever experienced sudden shortness of breath, wheezing and chest tightness during or soon after exercise, you might have exercise-induced bronchoconstriction (EIB). This is also called exercise-induced asthma. EIB is common for those with chronic asthma. But even those without other asthma symptoms can experience EIB flare-ups. Understanding what causes EIB can help you manage potential symptoms while still staying healthy and active.
Understanding the Causes
People who experience EIB may be more sensitive to colder temperatures and dry air. These conditions might not be a problem when you’re at rest. This is because air is usually warmed and moistened when you breathe through your nose. During exercise, though, you might be breathing more through your mouth. As a result, cold, dry air can get down into your airways, triggering EIB symptoms. Similar effects can happen to those who are sensitive to air pollutants and airborne allergens, like pollen.
If you find yourself wheezing or short of breath during or after exercise, visit your doctor or allergist/immunologist for an evaluation. Two tests might be used to diagnose EIB:
  • Spirometry. This is a basic breathing test used to diagnose asthma. You blow into a mouthpiece connected to a device called a spirometer or to a laptop computer. The results show how much air you can inhale and exhale, and how fast you can exhale.
  • Exercise challenge test. This is also called a bronchoprovocation test. It can take several forms. You might be given a spirometry test before and after using an exercise bike or treadmill. Or your physician might have your oxygen levels and heart rate monitored during such exercise. Either way, the test will help your doctor understand if exercise is an asthma trigger for you.
Medication Options
If your doctor determines you are susceptible to EIB, you might be prescribed one or more asthma medications. These might include:
  • Short-acting inhaler. Using a short-acting inhaler 15 or 20 minutes before you exercise can help prevent your airways from constricting for several hours.
  • Long-acting inhaler. These medications are used daily to help control chronic asthma symptoms.
  • Long-term inhaled corticosteroid. This is an anti-inflammatory medication for chronic asthma that helps reduce swelling and tightening in the airways.
Don’t Stop Staying Active
Being susceptible to EIB doesn’t mean you should stop exercising. In fact, the right exercise can help improve lung function over time. Exercise also can help boost your immune system, reducing your risk of upper respiratory infections. It also can help improve mood and reduce stress, which can reduce other asthma symptoms.