Exercise Induced Asthma and Winter Sports

By Carrie Needham PhD

The Winter Olympic Games are right around the corner, and the world is getting excited to watch all of the amazing performances that are sure to come. Each Olympic athlete has prepared for years for this moment, but for some, their training has been hindered by a condition called exercise induced bronchospasm (EIB) or exercise induced asthma (EIA).

exercise induced asthma

The Winter Olympic Games are right around the corner, and the world is getting excited to watch all of the amazing performances that are sure to come. Each Olympic athlete has prepared for years for this moment, but for some, their training has been hindered by a condition called exercise induced bronchospasm (EIB) or exercise induced asthma (EIA). EIB/EIA is a temporary narrowing of the airways after a bout of exercise, which makes it difficult to exhale. It is reported that anywhere from 9% to 50% of elite winter sport athletes suffer from EIB/EIA (Dickinson, 2006). Although similar numbers are seen in elite summer sport athletes, those who participate in certain winter sports may be more prone to experiencing EIB/EIA due to the following factors:

  • Chronic exposure to cold/dry air
  • Pollutants in indoor ice arenas
  • Pollutants in outside air
  • Respiratory infections

The symptoms of EIA/EIB may begin during exercise, often worsen shortly after terminating exercise, and can last an hour or more. Symptoms may include:

  • Coughing
  • Wheezing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest tightness
  • Decreased performance
  • Unusual fatigue

There are several laboratory and field tests that assist in the diagnosis of EIA/EIB. In addition to a complete medical history and physical, lung function testing before and after exercise is one method in diagnosing EIA/EIB. There are several treatment options that include short-acting and long-term control medications. Preventative measures can also be taken to reduce the severity of the symptoms of EIB/EIA, including:

  • Proper warm-up prior to exercise
  • Avoiding exercise in polluted air
  • Breathing in through your nose to warm air
  • Covering your mouth and nose in the cold
  • Try to avoid getting respiratory infections

Whether you are an elite athlete or a weekend warrior, participate in winter or summer sports, if you suffer from the symptoms associated with EIB/EIA come in to see one of our sports medicine physicians for an evaluation. If your symptoms quickly worsen or do not improve after using a rescue inhaler, seek emergency medical treatment.