Why Is it Hard for Me to Breathe After I Workout?

Struggling to catch your breath after a workout is understandably upsetting. When you can't get enough oxygen into your lungs, you may feel dizzy and lightheaded, which could be enough to discourage you from working out. By understanding the causes of breathing constriction after exercise, you can better understand how to react and how to prevent the problem in the future. By controlling your breath, you'll be able to make exercise a safe and fulfilling part of your lifestyle.

Trouble breathing may be the sign of a serious problem. (Image: Comstock/Stockbyte/Getty Images)

Causes

Beyond natural reasons, such as overexertion or the reaction your body has to exercise, real trouble breathing after exercise is usually the result of two issues. The first, exercise-induced asthma or bronchoconstriction, is a condition in which you suffer symptoms akin to those of asthma attacks as the result of strenuous exercise. The symptoms usually peak 10 to 15 minutes after exercise and are the result of constricted airways that make it difficult to breathe and cause wheezing, coughing and chest pain. The second condition, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, is the result of deteriorating lungs and an overproduction of mucus that makes it difficult to breathe.

Risk Factors

Your risk factors and past issues can give you greater clues as to what is causing your constricted breathing after exercise. If you're overweight or have already been diagnosed with asthma, you're more likely to suffer from exercise-induced asthma attacks. Still, those who have not been diagnosed with asthma can suffer from exercise-induced asthma. Exercise and environmental conditions can exacerbate your symptoms -- specifically cold, dry air, strong fumes or pollutants and other allergens.

If you've been diagnosed with chronic bronchitis, are often exposed to gases or fumes or are a smoker, COPD is the likely culprit. If you're simply overweight or haven't exercised in a while, your loss of breath may be the result of overexertion and a natural reaction to the increased need for oxygenated blood in your body.

What to Do

If you're at the gym or going for a run and you feel a tightness in your chest, have a mucous-like cough or are wheezing and struggling for breath, decrease your rate of exercise slowly. Stopping abruptly could cause lightheadedness as the rate of your pulse slows too rapidly. Walk slowly until you can catch your breath. If your doctor has prescribed a rescue inhaler, it's wise to administer the medicine, which is why you should always exercise with your inhaler close by. Take a drink of water, and take deep breaths before continuing low impact exercise.

Prevention Methods

Talking to your doctor about your symptoms is the best way to prevent that panicky, out-of-breath feeling during exercise. She can prescribe prevention medication for your asthma and suggest methods of exercise that cater to your conditions. In general, exercise that requires stops and starts is best, because it gives you time to catch your breath and increase your level of activity slowly. Swimming, yoga, dancing and walking are all ideal. If you're a smoker, quitting immediately can help you see a dramatic improvement in your breathing during exercise, because smoking can exacerbate both asthma and COPD symptoms.

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