Does walking, running or jumping cause you to have a tight chest, shortness of breath or wheezing? Do you often cough or wheeze after you’ve exercised.  If the above statements sound familiar, you may have exercise-induced bronchoconstriction (EIB). This happens when the tubes that bring air into and out of your lungs narrow during exercise making it difficult to move air out of your lungs.

What is exercise-induced bronchoconstriction?  EIB is a temporary narrowing of the airways caused by strenuous exercise or activity. It may begin during exercise or after exercise has ended. Some people say it feels as if their chest is too small for their lungs.  Others experience cough, wheeze or chest tightness. EIB occurs in 80-90% of people with asthma and in almost 50% of people who have nasal allergies.

What are the most common triggers of EIB? People with EIB are very sensitive to cold temperatures and dry air. Air is usually warmed and humidified by the nose, but during strenuous exercise people breathe more through their mouths allowing cold, dry air to reach the lower airway and lungs without passing through the nose. Air pollution, high pollen levels and viral respiratory infections may also trigger EIB. In addition increased breathing problems during exercise may be triggered by being out of shape, having poorly controlled nasal allergies, poorly controlled asthma or vocal cord issues.

How is exercise-induced asthma diagnosed? Wheezing or tightness in your chest can be serious, let your physician know about your symptoms and the type of activity that triggers your symptoms.  Your physician can help you by reviewing your health history, reviewing the medications that you have used and by doing a breathing test (called spirometry) at rest and also a follow-up exercise challenge test measuring spirometry before and after exercise.

Can exercise-induced asthma be treated?  One of the first steps for controlling EIB is finding the correct medical help and confirming the diagnosis based on your medical history and spirometry/exercise challenge testing. Using this information your physician will create an individual treatment plan with you.  Which activities may be more suitable for you?  Medications, treatment of allergies and modified warm up, cool down methods can be used to control EIB.

The American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Allergy estimates that 1 in 6 (17%) of the U.S. Olympic athletes who competed in the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, have EIB  but were able to control their EIB and successfully win numerous gold, silver and bronze medals.

The goal of an asthma treatment plan is to keep your EIB symptoms under control so that you can enjoy exercising or sports activities. Studies show that exercising on a routine basis improves lung capacity, reduces the amount of medications needed and overall improves asthma control.