Exercise-induced asthma (EIA) or exercise-induced bronchoconstriction (EIB) is a condition that affects a person's airways during or after exercise. EIA itself is generally not considered fatal. However, poorly managed asthma or failure to recognize and treat severe EIB symptoms can lead to life-threatening situations.
This blog will explore exercise-induced asthma, its symptoms, prevention measures, and treatment options. Understanding and managing this condition can help you maintain an active lifestyle without compromising your respiratory health.
What is Exercise-Induced Asthma?
Exercise-induced asthma occurs when the airways in the lungs become constricted during or after physical activity. The symptoms typically appear during or shortly after exercise, usually within 5-20 minutes.
This constriction is caused by the airways' heat and moisture loss due to increased breathing during exercise. As a result, people with EIB may have trouble breathing and experience chest tightness. Other symptoms are coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath during or shortly after exercising, and decreased performance.
EIB affects people of all ages and fitness levels, including athletes. According to the research group Asthma Australia, 50% of athletes, 25% of children, and 90% of people with asthma experience EIB. It is estimated that around 5-20% of the general population has EIB, including people without chronic asthma.
Therapeutic medicines are the first line of treatment for EIA because bronchial spasms and limited lung capacity require immediate action if the asthma is severe. However, it helps if a breathing technique and a breathing trainer are used to condition the lungs.
A consultation with a healthcare professional will determine if the symptoms are due to EIB or another underlying condition.
There are several preventive measures that you can take to minimize the risk of exercise-induced asthma symptoms. Some of these include:
1) Warm-Up And Cool-Down: Engage in a proper warm-up and cool-down routine before and after exercise to help your airways adjust to the increased demand.
2) Choose Your Environment Wisely: Avoid exercising in cold, dry, or polluted air, as these conditions can trigger EIB symptoms. Exercise indoors or wear a mask to help humidify and warm the air you breathe.
3) Manage Your Asthma: If you have chronic asthma, ensure it is well-controlled with medication and an asthma action plan.
4) Gradually Increase Intensity: Gradually increase the intensity of your exercise routine, allowing your body to adjust and reduce the risk of triggering EIB symptoms.
5) Know Your Triggers: Be aware of triggers that cause your EIB, such as allergens, cigarettes, and vaping.
Treatment options for EIB aim to relieve symptoms, prevent the occurrence of episodes, and improve overall respiratory function.
Here are some treatment options for exercise-induced asthma and their indications for use:
1) Therapeutic Medication
Proper diagnosis and immediate therapy are essential. Thus, therapeutic medication for treating EIB includes:
- Short-Acting Beta-Agonists (SABAs): These inhaled bronchodilators relieve acute symptoms of EIA by relaxing the muscles surrounding the airways, making breathing easier.
- Long-Acting Beta-Agonists (LABAs): These bronchodilators provide longer-lasting relief than SABAs and are often combined with inhaled corticosteroids for individuals with chronic asthma.
- Inhaled Corticosteroids: These medications are taken daily and help reduce inflammation in the airways, preventing EIB symptoms.
- Leukotriene Modifiers: These are an alternative or adjunct treatment for individuals with chronic asthma and EIB who do not respond well to inhaled corticosteroids.
- Mast Cell Stabilizers: They are typically used as a preventive treatment before exercise and are indicated for individuals who experience EIB symptoms despite using SABAs.
2) Breathing Techniques
Learning and practicing specific breathing techniques, such as pursed-lip, Buteyko, yoga, and diaphragmatic breathing, can help individuals with EIB reduce the risk of symptoms during exercise.
- Pursed-Lip Breathing: It helps to prolong exhalation, decrease the rapidity of breaths, and maintain open airways.
- Diaphragmatic Breathing (Abdominal Breathing): This technique encourages deep breathing by engaging the diaphragm, the large muscle at the base of the lungs responsible for respiration.
- Buteyko Breathing Technique: This method reduces the frequency and depth of breaths, which may help prevent hyperventilation and bronchoconstriction during exercise.
- Yoga Breathing (Pranayama): Various yoga breathing exercises can help improve lung function, increase oxygenation, and promote relaxation.
3) Breathing Trainer
A breathing trainer is a device that helps to strengthen respiratory muscles and improve lung function by creating resistance during inhalation and exhalation.
Individuals with exercise-induced asthma may experience reduced symptoms during physical activity as they improve their respiratory strength and efficiency.
By improving lung function and reducing symptoms, a breathing trainer can help individuals with EIB tolerate exercise better, allowing them to participate in physical activities more comfortably.
Incorporating a breathing trainer into the warm-up and cool-down routines can help prepare the respiratory system for exercise, reducing the risk of triggering EIB symptoms.
Exercise Induced Asthma can happen to anyone. Individuals should consult a healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment plan to minimize the risk of severe asthma attacks related to EIB.
The treatment plan includes the use of medications, instructions on breathing techniques, and the use of a Breathing Trainer. Those with EIB should be mindful of triggers and preventive measures, such as warming up and cooling down before and after exercise and avoiding exercising in cold, dry, or polluted environments.