People may experience worsened asthma when running. However, it is possible to manage symptoms by using prescribed treatments and monitoring triggers and breathing.

People with asthma symptoms during physical activity, such as running, have exercise-induced bronchoconstriction (EIB). Experts formerly called this exercise-induced asthma.

Signs and symptoms of asthma when running may include coughing, breathlessness, or increased mucus production.

This article looks at whether people can run with asthma and provides running tips for people with asthma. It also explores whether exercise can improve asthma, when to stop running, and questions to ask a doctor.

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The American Lung Foundation advises that asthma does not need to hold people back from being active and participating in sports such as running. As long as a person manages symptoms, they can continue to run.

If people experience wheezing or coughing during or after exercise, it is a good idea to speak with a doctor. They can offer advice on treatment and management options.

According to 2023 research, EIB occurs in 40–90% of people with asthma. Additionally, 30–70% of elite athletes also experience symptoms, especially during winter sports.

Treatment is well-established for asthma and EIB.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that if a person has suitable methods to control symptoms and knows their limits, they can safely run with asthma. It may also be helpful to seek advice from other athletes with asthma and a medical professional for running best practices.

Learn more about treatments for asthma.

According to the American Lung Association, there are a variety of ways people with EIB can lower their chances of experiencing asthma symptoms:

  • Warm up and cool down: A 6–10 minute warmup and stretch helps get the blood moving around the body and may prevent injury. Cooling down helps gradually return the heart rate and breathing to a normal level.
  • Monitor triggers and breathing: People can try the following to manage triggers:
    • breathing through the nose so warm air goes into the lungs
    • covering the nose and mouth with a scarf or face mask in cool, dry conditions
    • avoiding exercising when pollution, pollen, or other triggers are present, particularly if respiratory allergies also trigger asthma
  • Track symptoms and pre-medicate: A person may find it helpful to record their symptoms, including when and how often they occur. It is also best to use medication prescribed by a healthcare professional. If approved by a doctor, people may be able to pre-medicate with an inhaler before running.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that other practices can help relieve or prevent symptoms while running:

  • starting with low intensity runs until the body adapts
  • speaking with a doctor and having tests to ensure asthma is under control before starting a regular routine
  • running in short bursts rather than at fast paces or for long distances
  • taking breaks from running if asthma flares up
  • following an asthma action plan to help recognize early signs of asthma attack and treat symptoms
  • carrying rescue inhalers when running and using them if needed
  • practicing breathing exercises when running
  • showering after running, which may help remove allergens and moisten the air entering the lungs
  • quitting smoking, if applicable
  • running with other people or having a mobile phone available in case of emergency

Medications for asthma

The American College of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology suggests using inhalers and other medications to help prevent and treat EIB. These medications include the following:

  • Short-acting bronchodilators help stop symptoms right away. People may take them 15–30 minutes before vigorous exercise, such as running, to help prevent symptoms for 2–4 hours.
  • Long-term control asthma medications taken daily help prevent symptoms and asthma attacks, which may occur when running.
  • People can take long-acting bronchodilators 30–60 minutes before running to help prevent symptoms for 10–12 hours. A person can only use them once within a 12-hour period and in combination with an inhaled corticosteroid.
  • Leukotriene receptor inhibitor is a once-daily medication that can help prevent symptoms that accompany exercise.

Daily exercise may help improve lung capacity and increase blood flow to the lungs. Exercise may lead to benefits such as:

  • improved lung function, which may help breathing when running
  • a moderate body weight, which affects:
    • lung volume
    • blood flow to the airways
    • response to asthma medications
  • reduced stress, which may also be an asthma trigger

Some activities that are less likely to trigger EIB include:

  • volleyball
  • baseball
  • gymnastics
  • walking
  • swimming

Learn more about whether exercise can improve asthma.

Anecdotal evidence suggests a person should stop running if their asthma does not improve with medications their doctors prescribes. It is best to avoid exercising until after speaking with a medical professional about how to manage their condition.

Doctors may also recommend that a person stop running if symptoms trigger asthma attacks or they find it difficult to breathe. They should seek immediate medical attention or dial 911 if they have breathing difficulties.

As discussed above, there are various tips, medications, and alternative sports available to help control asthma triggers and symptoms and keep people active.

Find out more about how asthma affects the respiratory system.

People may ask a doctor the following questions:

  • Is it safe to run with asthma?
  • Can running make asthma worse?
  • Why am I so bad at running with asthma?
  • What does it feel like when running with asthma?
  • Should I use my inhaler before, during, or after running?
  • What is the best way to stop asthma symptoms immediately when running?
  • How or where do I get more medications for asthma?
  • Is running beneficial in the long term?
  • If I run slow, will I still experience asthma symptoms?
  • Can I run a marathon with asthma?
  • How many puffs of an inhaler are allowed when running?
  • Is it possible to strengthen my lungs?
  • Will I always experience asthma symptoms every time I run?
  • Why does the cold air make my asthma worse?

Keep reading about asthma from our dedicated hub.

People with exercise-induced bronchoconstriction may experience worsened asthma symptoms, such as coughing or wheezing, when running. However, it is safe for people to run with asthma as long as they manage symptoms with prescribed treatment.

Research suggests that asthma should not prevent people from being active, but it is important to take precautions to treat or help prevent symptoms.

Tips for running with asthma include incorporating a warmup and cooldown, monitoring and stabilizing breathing, identifying triggers, and using medications as advised by doctors.

It is best to stop running if it triggers asthma symptoms or attacks and treatment no longer provides relief. A person should speak with a doctor regarding their asthma action plan.