Cycling Shortness of Breath

Cycling and aerobic exercise in general, has many health benefits. Exercise strengthens the heart, reducing the risk of heart attack and stroke, and it also strengthens the lungs. It reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancers, while helping to lower blood pressure. Sometimes, however, cyclists can experience a shortness of breath while exercising. If you experience symptoms, it's important to see your doctor as soon as possible.

An older couple riding a tandem bicycle. Credit: XiXinXing/XiXinXing/Getty Images

Know the Symptoms

Some people experience symptoms just a few minutes into exercise, others experience symptoms just after working out and some have symptoms during and after exercise. Shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing, a tight chest, fatigue and poor performance are the most common symptoms of breathing problems. Exercising in cold or dry weather, exposure to air pollutants, suffering from a respiratory infection and being out of shape can also trigger symptoms. Symptoms that generally go beyond the feeling of overexertion or trying to catch your breath after a hard physical effort may be an indicator that you have exercise-induced asthma or other serious lung or heart problems.

Exercise Induced Asthma

Exercise induced asthma, also referred to as exercise induced bronchospasm, can effect everyone from the occasional exerciser to the professional athlete. This condition occurs when the bronchi, the small passages that carry air into the lungs, contract and fill with mucus. Normally this contraction occurs as the result of irritation, a foreign material or when an allergen irritates the lungs. In the case of exercise induced asthma, however, physical exertion acts as the trigger.

Other Underlying Causes

Though exercise induced asthma is a common cause of shortness of breath during exercise, there are other medical conditions and factors that may make breathing difficult when you cycle. Poor physical condition may be the cause, as the body adjusts to new physical demands. If this is the case, it's best to slowly add duration and intensity to your program. If you suspect that exercising in the cold triggers your breathing difficulties, consider cycling indoors on a stationary trainer to see if that helps you breathe easier. If you're still experiencing symptoms, it's important to see your doctor in order to rule out a lung disorder or a heart condition, including angina or heart disease, which could be the root cause. Shortness of breath can also be the side effect of certain medications or the result of allergies.

Seeking Treatment

If you are experiencing symptoms, your doctor will first perform tests to see how well your lungs are working. She may also test you for allergies. If it is asthma, attacks can be life-threatening or cause a permanent narrowing of your airway if left untreated. The most common treatment for asthma is an inhaler that, if used before exercise, helps to open up the passageway, making it easier to breath. If that doesn't control your symptoms, or you suffer from asthma when not exercising, your doctor may prescribe you with a daily long-term medication to ease symptoms.

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