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Exercise-Induced Asthma

It’s completely normal to need to catch your breath during exercise, but for people with exercise-induced asthma, recovering may not be as simple as taking a break.

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How to manage your asthma while exercising

Exercise-induced asthma can show symptoms in as little as 2–5 minutes into your workout. It occurs when your bronchial tubes start to close, leading to symptoms like:

  • Chest tightness
  • Coughing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing

Some people with very mild asthma can “run through” their symptoms without needing treatment. However, people with more severe exercise-induced asthma will need an inhaler as their go-to exercise partner.

An asthma attack can be a medical emergency. If you have difficulty breathing, chest pains or other concerning symptoms, call 911 immediately. Every second counts.

Allergy patient holding chest and suffering from shortness of breathe and an asthma attack while hiking.
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Your evaluation will also focus on defining your allergens and developing methods to reduce your exposure to them. Part of your evaluation will be designed to rule out medical conditions that can mimic exercise-induced asthma, such as:  

Sometimes, the pattern of your symptoms and your response to medication can help to rule out these other problems, too.

We may conduct pulmonary (lung) function tests or peak flow measurements to determine if you have exercise-induced asthma.

Peak flow monitoring

Peak flow monitoring measures the air flowing out of the lungs. This is often very helpful in determining the effectiveness of your medications. We can monitor it over several weeks or months to get a complete understanding of your asthma.

Pulmonary function test

We can learn a lot about your lungs just by observing you inhale and exhale. Pulmonary function tests measure how much air you can breathe in and out during exercise and how well your lungs deliver oxygen to your bloodstream.



Our team of allergists, pulmonologists and primary care doctors are all skilled in treating exercise-induced asthma so you can get back to your favorite exercise routine. Treating exercise-induced asthma can be approached in 2 ways: with long-term prevention and short-term prevention.

Long-term prevention

When your body is exposed to allergens it doesn’t like, your airways will probably become inflamed. Reducing your exposure to allergens will play a big role in improving your exercise-induced asthma in the long term.

For example, if you know you’re allergic to pollen, perhaps you switch to running on the treadmill on days with high pollen counts.

Including cortisone sprays, or “controller medications,” in your daily routine as a preventative measure can also gradually improve your exercise-induced asthma.

Short-term treatment

Bronchodilator inhalers are the most common form of treatment for exercise-induced asthma. Common types of inhalers include:

  • Albuterol (Ventolin, Proventil)
  • Levalbuterol (Xopenex)
  • Pirbuterol (Maxair)  

Always make sure to follow the instructions provided by your doctor for these inhalers. And keep this rule in mind: If you don’t get complete relief within 5–10 minutes after using an inhaler, or if the symptoms recur within several hours, then contact your physician to revise your treatment plan.

Other medications that treat exercise-induced asthma include:

  • Salmeterol or Formoterol: Oftentimes, these long-acting drugs are combined with a cortisone spray.
  • Antileukotriene pills: When used regularly or before exercise, these pills can improve exercise-induced asthma in some people.
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