Skip to Content
UW Health SMPH
American Family Children's Hospital

Exercise-induced Asthma and Bronchospasm

Exercise induced asthma (EIA) is a form of an asthma attack triggered by exercise. The symptoms often come and go gradually when participating in exercise. Many times individuals who suffer from EIA also have other triggers that will cause an asthma attack. Symptoms resulting from asthma, such as coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath are a result of hyperactive airways. These symptoms may occur during or immediately after exercise.
To better understand how to treat asthma, it is important to understand what triggers its onset. Bronchospasm (contraction and tightening of the muscles surrounding the airway), inflammation and swelling narrow the path that air enters and leaves the lungs.
Triggers of bronchospasm include:
  • Changes in temperature
  • Humidity
  • Seasonal allergens
One method of preventing or treating EIA is to change the environment in which you are exercising. For example, if you experience symptoms when exercising outdoors during high pollen counts, postpone the exercise until later in the day or exercise indoors. If you notice symptoms in cold, dry environments, try exercising in more humid conditions. Paying attention to, and avoiding the things that trigger your asthma attacks are the best methods for avoiding an attack.
A variety of medications are available to prevent and treat the symptoms associated with an asthma attack. Speak with your doctor about the best medication to manage your symptoms and always follow the directions for use.
  • Landry GL, Bernhardt DT. Essentials of Primary Care Sports Medicine. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics; 2003.
  • University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics Speech and Language Pathology Department
  • National Jewish Medical and Research Center

Paradoxical Vocal Fold Motion Disorder: When It's Not Asthma


Paradoxical Vocal Fold Motion Disorder (PVFM)

PVFM is a laryngeal disorder also sometimes called Vocal Cord Dysfunction (VCD) that involves the closing of the vocal folds when they should be open for breathing. This abnormal movement restricts a person's airflow during breathing and can contribute to breathing discomfort or shortness of breath.


PVFM is often misdiagnosed as asthma, however it can be present with asthma or in isolation. To help manage these symptoms, patients learn to control vocal folds through visual feedback and breathing exercises. PVFM can be evaluated and diagnosed by a Speech-Language Pathologist but a multi-disciplinary team approach to assessment and treatment is ideal and patients are often seen in conjunction with an allergist or pulmonologist, a psychiatrist and an otolaryngologist.


Learn more about UW Health Voice and Swallowing services for airway disorders