If you’re an athlete with asthma, you don’t have to hold back. With proper medication and conditioning, you can participate fully in sports. But in colder months, you should take some special precautions because cold dry air can trigger asthma attacks.
Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy
You start your workout and begin to wheeze or cough, feel short of breath or a tightness in your chest, generally peaks within 10 to 15 minutes and resolves by 60 minutes. This happens if you have exercise-induced asthma because your airways are overly sensitive to temperature and humidity.
“Normally, our nasal passages warm and moisten the air we breathe,” says pulmonologist Nirosshan Thiruchelvam, MD. But he says during exercise, we tend to breathe through our mouths, so the air we inhale is colder and drier.
Playing ice hockey or winter sports compounds the problem. An asthma attack causes muscle bands in the airways to react to the cold with spasms, which narrows the airway and causes symptoms. Upper respiratory infections can make asthma worse.
Dr. Thiruchelvam says the primary goal is to ensure that you don’t avoid exercise. Here are some practical things you can do if you have exercise-induced asthma:
Gaining and maintaining good control over exercise-induced asthma often requires teamwork. A primary care sports medicine physician can help you keep your asthma well-controlled, so that exercise is less likely to trigger symptoms.