Please note: This information was current at the time of publication but now may be out of date. This handout provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. For regularly updated information on a variety of health topics, please visit familydoctor.org, the AAFP patient education website.

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Am Fam Physician. 2003;67(4):776

What is exercise-induced bronchospasm?

Exercise-induced bronchospasm (also called EIB) happens if the airways in your lungs shrink (get smaller) while you are exercising. If you have EIB, it can be hard for you to exercise for more than 30 minutes. You may have wheezing, difficulty breathing, or chest pain. (Wheezing is a heavy whistling sound while you are trying to breathe.)

The symptoms start after 15 to 30 minutes of nonstop exercise. They get worse in cold weather, and during spring and fall, when people tend to have trouble with allergies. EIB is easy to treat. If you have EIB, you can still work and play sports.

Who gets EIB?

EIB might be caused by breathing air that is cooler and drier than the air in your lungs. Many people who have EIB symptoms also have asthma. In some people with asthma, allergies can make asthma worse and make EIB more likely to happen.

How can my doctor tell that I have EIB?

Your doctor will ask you questions about your symptoms and do a physical exam. If your doctor thinks you might have EIB, he or she may have you start taking medicine to see if it controls your symptoms.

What can I do to help myself?

It helps to warm up for 15 minutes before you start exercising. Try to cover your mouth and nose with a scarf or a face mask if you exercise outside in cold weather. Always breathe through your nose while you work out because that helps warm the air that goes into your lungs.

Try to figure out what causes your EIB symptoms. If you find out what makes your EIB worse, you can try to avoid it. During allergy seasons, the local news broadcasts usually tell you what allergens are in the air.

Your doctor will tell you how to take your medicine. Always follow your doctor's instructions and take your medicine every time you exercise.

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