Experiencing a coughing fit, wheezing, or shortness of breath after intense physical training is not uncommon and is known as exercise-induced bronchoconstriction
Engaging in vigorous physical exercise, such as running, can trigger certain airway symptoms similar to those caused by asthma . This is called exercise-induced bronchoconstriction (EIB) or, generally, exercise-induced asthma. Suffering a bronchospasm during or after intense sports activity is not unusual. According to several studies, the prevalence of EIB among the general population is between 9-12%. The percentage is higher in elite athletes, 14-23%; If training takes place in very cold climates, bronchoconstriction occurs in one in two athletes. Let’s learn a little more about this pathology and how to avoid it.
What Is Bronchospasm?
A bronchospasm is a sudden narrowing of the bronchial tube. It is produced by the contraction or tension of the musculature of the bronchi and bronchioles, which causes a reduction in airflow equal to or greater than 15%. The symptoms of bronchospasm are:
Difficulty Breathing .
Wheezing (Hoarse Or Whistling Breath) .
Chest Pain .
Feeling Of Dyspnea (Little Breath) .
Bronchospasm can have different causes. Among the most frequent is an inflammation of the airways, an allergic reaction (bronchial hyperreactivity) or irritation due to air friction, excessive cooling or drying of the airways . This last circumstance is what is called bronchoconstriction or exercise-induced bronchospasm (EIB) .
Why Physical Exercise Can Cause Bronchoconstriction?
Exercise-induced bronchoconstriction is a transient increase in airway resistance and reactivity. The main cause is cooling of the airways: during sports, when breathing through the mouth and not through the nose (hyperventilating), the air does not get hot or humid, so it reaches the lower respiratory tract cold and dry. .
The lower the ambient temperature and humidity, the more likely this phenomenon to occur. Therefore, training in areas with cold climates favors the appearance of EIB.
Air quality also influences the possibility of suffering a bronchospasm during sports practice. If the levels of environmental contamination or pollen concentration are high , the risks increase.
Likewise, the athlete’s state of health (especially with regard to the respiratory tract) is another determining factor.
Does Exercise Cause Asthma?
Although exercise-induced bronchoconstriction is called exercise-induced asthma, this does not mean that exercise causes asthma or that people with asthma should stop playing sports.
Clinically, it has only been shown that EIB is more frequent in people who have diagnosed asthma (it occurs in 70-80% of patients with asthma), in elite athletes, in children and in those over 65 years of age.
How To Avoid EIB?
Bronchospasm crises usually appear during physical exercise (frequently 10 or 15 minutes after the start) or at the end of it. Normally the symptoms remit spontaneously after 30 minutes without any intervention other than rest.
The best way to avoid EIB is to take preventive measures such as the following:
Warm Up Before And Cool Down After.
Before starting sports practice, it is essential to carry out a basic warm-up routine of at least 10 minutes. Stretching and gradually warming up the body can not only prevent bronchospasms, but also muscle and joint injuries.
After finishing the training we must dedicate some time to return to calm, gradually lowering the heart and respiratory rate.
It is important to try to breathe through the nose , avoiding doing it through the mouth. In this way, the air that reaches the lungs will be warmer and with the correct humidity.
Protection On The Coldest Days.
When the temperature is lower, and in order to warm up the breath (especially if it is done through the mouth), we can resort to placing a scarf or neck warmer over our nose and mouth .
If the levels of environmental contamination or pollen concentration are higher than usual, resorting to a mask during training will prevent airway congestion. Trying to exercise indoors on those days is another option to consider. It is also necessary to avoid, as far as possible, practicing sports next to congested roads or in parks and gardens during flowering.
How Is Exercise Bronchospasm Diagnosed And Treated?
If you suffer several episodes of bronchoconstriction induced by physical exercise, it is advisable to consult a specialist in order to assess our condition and, if necessary, indicate the treatment that we must follow. Among the tests that will be carried out on us are stress tests (especially indicated in patients under 25 years of age), spirometry and oximetry .
Regarding treatments, beta-2 agonist bronchodilators are the most common drugs. They act on the airways causing a widening and, consequently, an increase in air flow. They are taken 15-30 minutes before exercise . They can be fast-acting or immediate, such as salbutamol and fenoterol, which last between 4 and 6 hours, and long-acting, such as salmeterol and formoterol, whose action lasts from 12 to 14 hours.