Learn Why Physical Activity Causes Asthma Attacks

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No matter how careful you are during a game of pickup basketball or an aerobic dance workout, you become breathless and start coughing shortly after you began playing or working out. Learn why your body responds this way and find out what you can do to stop the exercise-asthma attack cycle in its tracks.

You Breathe Harder

Before your next game of tag football, soccer or aerobic workout, think about why physical activity causes asthma. What is your body doing? Physically, it’s working hard. Your heart rate is going up; your breathing speeds up. After 5 to 10 minutes of sustained physical activity, you start to have trouble breathing. You may wheeze. You cough. Your chest feels tight as the bands around your airways constrict. You’re in the throes of a full-blown asthma attack, writes the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.

What’s worse is that this happens every time you participate in a physical activity, even one as “safe” as a brisk walk around the block. This process also develops when you choose to work out indoors, away from pollutants or cold air. [1]

Physical activity, per se, does not “cause” asthma. Rather, it exacerbates a condition already present inside your lungs and body.

All Kinds of Physical Activity

So, what kinds of physical activity are “safe?” None. Any kind of physical activity can “potentially cause exercise-induced asthma,” according to ABC News Health. Certain activities are more likely to put you at risk of an attack. These include cross-country running, soccer or lacrosse, skiing or football.

Anyone who has been diagnosed with exercise-induced asthma (EIA) is more likely to develop an asthma attack during any kind of physical activity. To protect yourself from the consequences of an attack, keep your rescue inhaler nearby any time you participate in any kind of physical activity. [2]

Exercise-Induced Asthma

Not everyone who suffers from asthma is afflicted by EIA. A subset of asthmatics are more prone to asthma exacerbations resulting from exercise or physical activity. The good news is that, if you suffer from EIA, you can find an appropriate treatment, which allows you to continue participating in the activities and sports you enjoy, writes Kids Health. As long as you take a pre-workout or -game puff from your rescue inhaler and keep your inhaler close by, you can jog, dance, swim, play basketball or go on a hike. [3]

Out-of-Doors Exercise

If you participate in a physical activity outside, you are more likely to experience an attack related to exercise. Pollutants, such as smog, smoke from a fireplace, vehicle emissions and secondhand smoke make it more likely that you will experience an exacerbation of your symptoms. [1]

If you are playing a game of hockey outdoors for instance, the cold, dry air can trigger an asthma attack. It isn’t only the cold that triggers attacks; extreme humidity and heat can contribute as well, according to Kids Health. [3]


[1] Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. What Causes Asthma, retrieved at https://www.aafa.org/display.cfm?id=8&cont=6

[2] ABC News Health. Is There Any Type of Exercise That Does Not Trigger Exercise-Induced Asthma. retrieved at https://abcnews.go.com/Health/AsthmaRiskFactors/story?id=4864480

[3] Kids Health. Asthma, retrieved at https://kidshealth.org/teen/diseases_conditions/respiratory/asthma.html#