How does exercise cause asthma attacks?

Curr Opin Allergy Clin Immunol. 2006 Feb;6(1):37-42. doi: 10.1097/01.all.0000199797.02423.78.


Purpose of review: To remind readers that evaporative water loss from the airway surface is the stimulus for exercise-induced bronchoconstriction. To emphasize that recruitment of the peripheral airways determines severity of exercise-induced bronchoconstriction. To draw attention to the potential for injury of the epithelium and for plasma exudation to contribute to the pathogenesis of exercise-induced bronchoconstriction in athletes. To emphasize that many inflammatory mediators are involved in exercise-induced bronchoconstriction and that some are found in both asthmatic and healthy subjects.

Recent findings: That inflammatory mediators are released into the airways in response to exercise and can be measured by inducing sputum (histamine, cysteinyl leukotrienes) or collecting condensate from exhaled air (cysteinyl leukotrienes and adenosine). The concentration of mediators was reduced in response to a combination of loratadine and montelukast. Exercise is a stimulus for upregulating the genes coding for the 5-lipoxygenase pathway in healthy subjects.

Summary: Dehydration of the airways results in release of mediators. The likely source of these mediators is the mast cell. Epithelial injury occurs in exercise-induced bronchoconstriction. The process of repair may contribute to the development of airway hyperresponsiveness in healthy subjects. Measuring the airway response to exercise, or a surrogate for exercise, as an indicator of airway hyperresponsiveness is warranted in patients with symptoms of asthma.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Asthma, Exercise-Induced / immunology
  • Asthma, Exercise-Induced / physiopathology*
  • Bronchoconstriction
  • Dinoprost / urine
  • Humans
  • Inflammation Mediators / immunology
  • Leukotriene E4 / urine
  • Mast Cells / physiology


  • Inflammation Mediators
  • Leukotriene E4
  • Dinoprost