Exercise-Induced Asthma and Winter Sports

What is Exercise-Induced Asthma?

First, let’s talk about what asthma is. When we inhale, oxygen enters the lungs through structures called bronchi. Asthma is a spasm, or tightening, of the bronchi making it difficult to get air into the lungs. This lack of air can create unpleasant symptoms and limit activity.  Asthma has many different triggers, but here we will specifically look at exercise-induced asthma.

As the name suggests, vigorous or prolonged activity triggers this type of asthma. The symptoms typically start to show about 5- 20 minutes into an activity. For example, during a sporting event or workout you would start out feeling fine, but after several minutes you might begin to feel a tightness in your chest, coughing or wheezing, unusual fatigue or shortness of breath. The symptoms will often be worse 5-10 minutes after stopping exercise, and will usually go away 20-30 minutes after stopping.

What Causes Exercise-Induced Asthma?

People who already suffer from asthma are most likely to experience exercise-induced asthma attacks. However, many people who do not normally suffer from asthma can experience episodes of exercise-induced asthma. Pollution, pollen and other airborne irritants can trigger a bout of asthma during exercise. Even more common is inhaling very dry or cold air. For that reason, young athletes participating in outdoor winter sports in Central Oregon should take some precautions. At the same time, exercise-induced asthma is not something that should prevent you from enjoying sports that you love.

How to Control Exercise-Induced Asthma

If you regularly suffer from asthma, the best way to control exercise-induced asthma is to use an albuterol inhaler prior to any type of activity. Albuterol is a bronchodilator, which means it opens up the bronchi so that you can breathe. It will also help control spasms that may happen with exercise. If you do have an inhaler for your exercise-induced asthma you should use it 10 minutes before exercise, or as directed by your doctor.

Anyone who experiences exercise-induced asthma can avoid it by taking a few simple precautions. First, start with a proper warm up and cool down activity. This should include at least 10 minutes of activity that will gradually increase your heart rate and breathing. Second, be aware if there is a high pollen count or other air pollutions (such as smoke from fires) that might trigger your asthma, and exercise at a level that is appropriate for you in those conditions. If dry, cold winter air is the specific cause of your asthma, consider using a thin scarf or mask to cover your mouth and nose during exercise.  This barrier will create a pocket of warm air and help you avoid symptoms. Finally, it is important to listen to your body and take the right steps to keep yourself safe and comfortable.

Don’t Let Exercise-Induced Asthma Stop You!

To conclude, exercise-induced asthma should not be a reason to avoid activities that you love. In fact, if you suspect that you have asthma and experience the symptoms above, it may be time to make a visit to your doctor. With their help, you can put a plan in place to control your asthma and keep doing all the activities that you love this winter and beyond.

Written by: Alex Walker, ATC athletic trainer for The Center Foundation and Sisters High School in Sisters, OR. Learn more about Alex HERE.

The Center Foundation places dedicated athletic trainers in local high schools to provide sports medicine services to young athletes at no charge to the students or their families. Learn more about our work HERE.


Exercise-Induced Asthma. WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/asthma/guide/exercise-induced-asthma#2. Accessed August 6, 2018.
Exercise-Induced Bronchoconstriction (Asthma). Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. http://www.aafa.org/exercise-induced-asthma/. Accessed October 25, 2018.