Bronchospasm happens when the bronchial muscles in the lungs contract erratically. This results in a restriction of the airways and a patient will find it hard to breathe because less air reaches the lungs. The feeling has been described as trying to breathe through an obstructed snorkel when underwater. Bronchospasms are reversible.
Many asthmatics suffer from bronchospasms, but it could affect patients with other airway-related conditions. It’s often reported in patients over the age of 65 years and children. Exercise-induced bronchospasms are observed in athletes because strenuous physical activity leads to a temporary contraction of the bronchial muscle.
Certain underlying medical conditions, medications, allergies and exercise can cause bronchospasms. The most common causes include:
The prevalence of exercise-induced bronchospasm is quite high at 5% to 20% of the population and a much higher prevalence in asthmatics. Scientists have found that it is particularly common among children (45%) and could be a predictor for asthma in some kids.
When air is inhaled during exercise, the nose tries to warm up the air, but with increasing exercise duration and exertion, the heat is lost which cools down the airways and causes our parasympathetic nervous system to restrict the muscles. That’s also why it is so painful to breathe in cold air.
The most commonly observed symptoms of bronchospasm include:
Symptoms may get worse depending on the severity of your airway restriction. Severe cases require urgent medical attention. In severe bronchospasm, patients often don’t make any wheezing or breathing sounds because their airways are so restricted that very little air can pass.
Your doctor will usually examine your medical history and ask about asthma and other medical conditions as well as any allergies you may have. There are a variety of breathing tests a healthcare provider can perform to establish if further medical tests are required.
Treatment of bronchospasms will depend on the severity and the causes.
Patients with exercise-induced bronchospasms without asthma are advised to prevent bronchospasms by reducing their exercise regime or restricting exercise to warmer locations. A good physical warm-up before exercise has also been shown to be beneficial in reducing the severity of bronchospasm.
Prevention of bronchospasms is recommended in all cases. Patients should avoid triggers, other people who are sick and reduce lung irritation by breathing through their nose when walking in cold weather.
To manage bronchospasms, a healthcare provider can prescribe bronchodilators. The medication is used to relax the smooth muscles and widen the airways. Inhaled bronchodilators are recommended as they act faster than tablets or shots.
There are three types of bronchodilators:
Short-acting bronchodilators are used for fast relief from bronchospasms. They are taken as soon as an attack occurs to provide immediate relief. Some athletes use short-acting bronchodilators before they exercise to avoid bronchospasm. Their action lasts from 2 to 4 hours.
However, if you are using your short-term bronchodilators more than twice a week it may be a sign of asthma. Speak to a doctor.
Long-acting bronchodilators can be used every day to manage symptoms long term. They are usually prescribed if you suffer from severe or recurring bronchospasms alongside asthma. Typically, they are used twice a day.
Common side effects of all types of bronchodilators include:
If you experience any uncommon side effects or your condition isn’t improving, get urgent medical care.