Some people may notice during exercise that they have sudden trouble breathing. After a bout of strenuous cardio or intense physical exercise, it can feel like their lungs are seizing up and they have to gasp for air. This condition is known as “exercise induced asthma,” more formally “exercise-induced bronchoconstriction” or EIB for short.
EIB exhibits almost identical symptoms to normal asthma, except that it is almost always a result of physical stress and can occur in patients with otherwise healthy breathing patterns. Estimates for people who suffer from some degree of EIB range anywhere from seven to 20 percent of the population. Among patients who already have chronic symptomatic asthma, 80 percent or more experience EIB.
While EIB can be debilitating and even scary, it should not discourage you from staying active. In fact, good cardiovascular health can decrease the incidence or severity of EIB.
The key is to manage symptoms and accommodate your condition within workout regimens. Some of the most talented and active athletes have EIB, including world-record marathon runner Paula Radcliffe. Atlanta ENT can help you diagnose, manage and hopefully reduce your EIB symptoms long-term to keep you active and at your physical peak for as long as possible.
Traits of EIB
EIB can manifest itself in many ways. Most patients who suffer from frequent EIB will notice difficulty breathing once they hit a certain heart rate in their exercise. Symptoms can include:
- Shortness of breath
- A feeling of tightness or swelling in the chest and throat
- Forceful cough
- Decreased endurance
- Upset stomach
Symptoms typically appear when the heart rate and breathing begins to hit its peak at 10-15 minutes in exercise. Some patients can experience more rapid onset, as early as three minutes in — especially if engaging in strenuous exercise like sprints. These symptoms can take up to an hour to disappear and will not resurface until later physical activity.
The bodily response of EIB is very similar to chronic asthma. Bronchial tubes in the lungs become inflamed, and the body can begin to produce excess mucus. Restricted airways and excess fluid make breathing very difficult and contribute to a feeling of chest tightness or wheezing when breathing, often resulting in a cough. These symptoms are more likely to occur if the athlete has been engaging in vigorous aerobic exercise that requires both nasal and mouth breathing.
Managing EIB Symptoms
There are two approaches to managing EIB symptoms. The first step is to reduce the risk factors, and the second is to use medication to address the condition long-term.
Risk factors for EIB include cold, dry air. This air tends to increase blood flow in lungs that can trigger the swelling reaction in bronchial tubes. If possible, move exercise inside during days like these or take efforts to keep your throat and nasal passages as warm and moist as possible. For example, wearing a loose scarf or ski muffler around your neck and possibly over your mouth can often make breathing easier.
Another element that can reduce EIB onset is to increase your body’s capacity to handle oxygen transport and blood flow during exercise. In other words, improve your heart health. Engage in cardiovascular exercise regularly and work your way up to longer durations or more intense exercises like long-distance and sprints. Over time, your EIB symptoms may be less likely to occur or to be as severe.
However, recognize that EIB can be just as dangerous as regular asthma in some instances. Having your condition diagnosed and working out a treatment plan with a medical professional can be vital, especially if you wish to continue engaging in rigorous exercise. Long-term treatments like glucocorticoids and leukotriene-modifying treatments can prevent symptoms, and fast-acting inhalers like Albuterol can clear up symptoms as they occur. Long-term solutions are preferable since sustained use of fast-acting inhalers can build up tolerance over time.
Visit Atlanta ENT to have your condition diagnosed accurately and to work out a safe and effective treatment plan. Our expert doctors can help you stay active and healthy without having to endure the stress that EIB can cause. Take a look at our asthma treatment services page to learn more.