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Exercise-Induced Bronchospasm in Children

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Feb 6, 2023.

What is exercise-induced bronchospasm (EIB)?

EIB is a temporary inflammation and narrowing of your child's airway while he or she exercises. Irritants such as pollution, allergens, or cold, dry air may trigger EIB. Your child may be more likely to have EIB if he or she exercises during illness. Illnesses that may trigger an EIB include an infection in your child's nose, throat, sinuses, airway, or lungs.

What are the signs and symptoms of EIB?

Symptoms usually are worst 5 to 10 minutes after exercise stops and last for 20 to 30 minutes. Your child may have any of the following:

  • A cough, wheezing, or shortness of breath
  • Chest pain or tightness
  • Being tired very easily during or after exercise
  • Trouble doing physical activities during certain seasons

How is EIB diagnosed?

Your child's healthcare provider will ask about any medical problems your child has, such as asthma, allergies, or lung infections. He or she may ask if a family member has asthma or allergies. Tell the provider about your child's symptoms, activities that cause them, and how often they occur. Lung function tests will be done to measure the airflow in your child's lungs. These tests show how deeply your child can breathe. The healthcare provider may test your child's lungs before and after he or she exercises. Your child may also be given medicine to trigger an EIB. The healthcare provider will test your child's lungs before and after he or she takes the medicine.

How is EIB treated?

  • Your child may need medicine to help decrease inflammation, open airways, and make it easier for him or her to breathe. Short-acting medicine is taken 15 minutes before strenuous exercise, or when your child has symptoms. Long-acting medicine is taken daily to help prevent an exercise-induced attack. Your child may also need medicine to control allergies that trigger his or her symptoms. Medicine may be inhaled or taken as a pill. Make sure your older child knows how to use an inhaler.
  • Your child's healthcare provider will give you a written action plan. This plan contains your child's treatment instructions. It will tell you how to recognize symptoms of an EIB. Share this action plan with trainers and coaches if your child is an athlete. They should also be able to recognize the symptoms of EIB and know what to do if they occur.

Treatment options

The following list of medications are in some way related to or used in the treatment of this condition.

View more treatment options

How can I help my child prevent EIB episodes?

  • Tell your child to breathe through his or her nose during exercise. This helps warm the outside air before it reaches the airway. Deep breathing will also help open your child's airway.
  • Have your child wear a mask over his or her mouth during outdoor exercise. In cold weather, this will help warm the air he or she breathes. It may also help prevent your child from breathing in allergens, irritants, and germs that cause infections. Your child may wear a scarf or mask, or use breathing masks or filters.
  • Have your child exercise in areas that do not trigger his or her EIB. Swimming pools, ice rinks, and other indoor arenas may have increased amounts of gases in the air. If chlorine or other gases trigger your child's EIB, he or she may need to exercise outdoors. Outdoor physical activities should be avoided during the afternoon and evening when air pollution is highest.
  • Make sure your child does warm-up exercises , such as walking or stretching, before intense exercise or physical activities. He or she should also cool down for at least 10 minutes afterward.
  • Keep your child away from cigarette smoke. Tobacco smoke increases your child's risk for an EIB. Move your child away from anyone who is smoking. Talk to your older child about not smoking. Your child's healthcare provider can give you information if you or your child smokes and wants help quitting.
  • Do not let your child exercise if he or she has a respiratory infection. Ask your child's healthcare provider when it is okay for him or her to exercise.

Call your local emergency number (911 in the US) if:

  • Your child has severe pain in his or her chest.
  • Your child has trouble thinking, or he or she faints.
  • Your child is so short of breath that he or she has trouble walking and talking.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • The skin around your child's chest and neck pulls in with each breath.

When should I call my child's doctor?

  • Your child's symptoms get worse.
  • Your child uses short-acting medicine every day, or more frequently than usual.
  • You have questions or concerns about your child's condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your child's care. Learn about your child's health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your child's healthcare providers to decide what care you want for your child. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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