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Asthma: Exercise-Induced Asthma Factsheet (for Schools)

Medically reviewed by: Elana Pearl Ben-Joseph, MD

What Teachers and Coaches Should Know

Exercise is one of the most common triggers for kids and teens with asthma. But some people have asthma symptoms only during or after exercise. This is known as exercise-induced asthma (EIA). The asthma symptoms happen because the airways tighten up (called bronchoconstriction) during exercise. This blocks the flow of air and makes it hard to breathe.

When this happens, a person might:

  • have , tightness or pain in the chest, coughing, or trouble breathing during or after exercise
  • get winded or tired easily during or after exercise
  • cough after coming inside from being active outdoors
  • not be able to run for more than a few minutes without stopping

Symptoms may happen within 5–10 minutes of exercising, and peak 5–10 minutes after exercising stops. They usually go away within 1 hour.

What Teachers and Coaches Can Do

Having EIA doesn't mean students should skip sports, gym classes, or other physical activities. As well as keeping them fit, exercise can strengthen the breathing muscles in the chest and help their lungs work better. But students with EIA often need to use their inhalers before they exercise. Most students with asthma have written instructions from their doctor (called an asthma action plan) that cover this and other important parts of their asthma care.

Some sports might be a bit harder for someone with asthma, like those that demand a lot of energy without rest breaks, or cold-weather sports. But that doesn't mean that students can't play these sports if they really like them. In fact, athletes with asthma have found that with the right training and medicine, they can do any sport they choose.

Teachers and coaches can help students with EIA by:

  • reminding them to carry and use their inhaler before activity, if their doctor recommends it
  • making time for proper warm-ups and cool-downs during practices, games, and other physical activities
  • encouraging them to breathe through the nose during exercise
  • having them take breaks during exercise and use an inhaler as prescribed if symptoms start
  • avoiding exercise in cold temperatures (or having students wear a ski mask or scarf over their mouth and nose if this can't be avoided)

You should know your students' asthma triggers and let them use their medicines when needed. You should also know how to recognize and handle an asthma emergency (you may be the only adult around when an asthma flare-up happens, or the student may not have an asthma action plan). If a student's symptoms don't improve or get worse after taking medicine, call the school nurse or 911.

Medically reviewed by: Elana Pearl Ben-Joseph, MD
Date reviewed: February 2024