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The Impact of Cetirizine on Exercise-Induced Asthma : A Deep Dive into Its Role

What is Exercise-induced Asthma?

Exercise-induced asthma (EIA), also referred to as exercise-induced bronchoconstriction (EIB), is a respiratory condition characterized by the narrowing of the airways in the lungs during physical exertion. This phenomenon leads to the onset of asthma-like symptoms, including coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness, and a feeling of discomfort in the chest. While many people can exercise without any respiratory issues, those with exercise-induced asthma experience these symptoms specifically during or after exercise.(1,2)

The underlying mechanism of exercise-induced asthma involves the airways becoming hyper-responsive to certain triggers that are encountered during physical activity. When these triggers are encountered, the airway muscles may constrict, leading to a reduced airflow and the symptoms mentioned above. Common triggers include the intake of cold, dry air during exercise, increased ventilation, and the release of certain chemicals in the body as a response to exertion.

It is important to note that exercise-induced asthma is not the same as typical asthma that is triggered by allergens or other factors. Many individuals with exercise-induced asthma do not experience asthma symptoms at rest or in other situations unrelated to physical activity. Additionally, some people who have a history of allergies or asthma are more susceptible to developing exercise-induced asthma.(3)

The Impact of Cetirizine on Exercise-Induced Asthma

As mentioned above, exercise-induced asthma is a condition in which physical activity triggers the narrowing of the airways, resulting in symptoms similar to asthma. These symptoms can include coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, and chest tightness. EIA is a common issue for many individuals, particularly those with underlying respiratory conditions or allergies.(4)

Meanwhile, cetirizine is an antihistamine medication often used to alleviate allergy symptoms such as sneezing, runny nose, and itchy eyes. While cetirizine primarily targets histamine receptors and is not a bronchodilator like those used to treat asthma symptoms, some studies have explored its potential impact on exercise-induced asthma.

Research into the effectiveness of cetirizine in managing exercise-induced asthma has yielded mixed results. Some studies have suggested that cetirizine may have a modest benefit in reducing the severity of exercise-induced bronchoconstriction in individuals with mild cases of exercise-induced asthma, especially when triggered by allergens. The antihistamine properties of cetirizine may help mitigate the inflammatory response in the airways, thus potentially leading to less severe symptoms during exercise.(5)

What Does the Research Say on the Impact of Cetirizine on Exercise-Induced Asthma?

While there is limited research on the specific impact of cetirizine on exercise-induced asthma (EIA), some studies have explored the potential benefits of antihistamines, including cetirizine, in managing EIA symptoms. Here are a few examples of studies that have investigated this topic:

A 2003 study explored the potential of antihistamines in asthma treatment, cetirizine demonstrated promising effects on exercise-induced asthma. In several trials, cetirizine administered at doses ranging from 10 to 20 mg, once or twice daily, consistently exhibited an improvement in asthma symptoms compared to placebo or other antihistamines. This positive impact was particularly pronounced when cetirizine was compared to terfenadine at 60 mg twice daily. The findings suggest that cetirizine holds potential as an effective intervention for exercise-induced asthma, especially when administered at doses exceeding those commonly used for allergic rhinitis.(6)

In another case study from 2003, a 32-year-old male athlete, a competitive long-distance runner, with exercise-induced asthma (EIA) symptoms, experienced coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath after vigorous exercise, which significantly impacted his training and performance. To address his symptoms and improve his exercise tolerance, his physician recommended the use of cetirizine, a second-generation antihistamine. The patient was prescribed cetirizine 10 mg once daily, taken in the morning. The antihistamine was chosen due to its potential bronchodilatory effects and its role in minimizing airway inflammation, both of which could contribute to alleviating exercise-induced bronchoconstriction. After a month of consistent cetirizine use, the patient reported a significant reduction in exercise-induced symptoms. He noted decreased coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath during and after his training sessions. His peak expiratory flow rates also showed improvement, indicating enhanced airway function.(7)

This case study highlights the potential of antihistamines, such as cetirizine, in managing exercise-induced asthma symptoms.

Rundell K.W. et al. in 2002 investigated the effect of cetirizine on exercise-induced asthma in athletes. This study found that cetirizine did not provide a significant improvement in lung function or exercise-induced bronchoconstriction compared to a placebo. The results suggested that cetirizine might not be a primary treatment option for EIA in athletes.(8)

It is, therefore, important to note that the results of these studies are mixed, and the effectiveness of cetirizine in managing EIA may vary based on individual factors such as the severity of asthma, the presence of allergies, and other underlying health conditions. While some studies suggest a potential benefit, others indicate limited or no significant improvement. As always, individuals with EIA should consult a healthcare professional for personalized guidance on managing their condition and determining the most appropriate treatment approach.

It is also important to note that cetirizine is not considered a primary treatment for exercise-induced asthma, and its effectiveness may vary from person to person. In cases of moderate to severe exercise-induced asthma, bronchodilators such as short-acting beta-agonists (e.g., albuterol) are typically recommended for quick relief of symptoms before exercise.

If you are considering using cetirizine to manage exercise-induced asthma, it is necessary to consult with a healthcare professional. They can assess your specific situation, recommend appropriate treatments, and create an asthma action plan tailored to your needs. Individuals with exercise-induced asthma should also consider other preventive measures, such as warming up before exercise, avoiding triggers when possible, and using prescribed medications as directed.

Can Cetirizine Be Used For Long-Term Management of Exercise-induced Asthma?

While some studies have explored the potential benefits of antihistamines like cetirizine in managing asthma symptoms, including exercise-induced asthma (EIA), their role in long-term management is not as well-established as other asthma medications.

Cetirizine may offer some relief from certain asthma symptoms, especially if they are triggered by allergies, but it is not considered a first-line treatment for asthma. The mainstay of long-term asthma management typically includes inhaled corticosteroids, bronchodilators, leukotriene receptor antagonists, and other medications that target the underlying inflammation and bronchoconstriction associated with asthma.

If you are considering using cetirizine or any other antihistamine for long-term management of exercise-induced asthma or asthma in general, it’s crucial to consult with a medical professional. A healthcare provider can assess your specific condition, symptoms, and medical history to recommend the most appropriate and effective treatment plan for your asthma management. They can also guide you on potential interactions, side effects, and any adjustments needed to your existing treatment regimen.

Tips for Managing Exercise-Induced Asthma

Managing exercise-induced asthma involves a comprehensive approach. Here are some additional tips to help effectively manage exercise-induced asthma:

  1. Proper Warm-Up: Engage in a gradual warm-up before exercise. This can help prepare your airways for the increased activity and minimize the risk of bronchoconstriction.
  2. Choose the Right Environment to exercise in: Opt for exercising in environments with warm and humid air, as cold and dry air can trigger EIA more easily. If you’re exercising outdoors during colder months, consider wearing a scarf or mask to cover your nose and mouth.
  3. Stay Hydrated: Adequate hydration can help keep your airways moist and reduce the risk of irritation. Drink water before, during, and after exercise.
  4. Practice Breathing Techniques: Practice breathing through your nose during exercise. Nasal breathing can help humidify and warm the air before it reaches your lungs.
  5. Avoid Triggers: Identify and avoid any environmental triggers that may worsen your EIA, such as allergens or pollutants.
  6. Cool Down: After exercising, cool down gradually to help prevent sudden airway constriction. Slowly reduce the intensity of your activity before coming to a complete stop.

Remember that everyone’s asthma triggers and responses are unique, so it is important to find an individualized approach that works for you. Consulting a healthcare provider is crucial for developing a comprehensive and personalized plan to effectively manage exercise-induced asthma and enhance your quality of life.


Cetirizine’s impact on exercise-induced asthma (EIA) is linked to its ability to mitigate histamine-induced bronchoconstriction and inflammation. Clinical studies suggest its potential in enhancing lung function, reducing symptoms, and improving exercise tolerance in EIA. However, due to EIA’s multifaceted nature and individual variability, cetirizine alone might not comprehensively manage all aspects of the condition. A holistic approach that combines cetirizine with other strategies like bronchodilators, anti-inflammatories, and personalized lifestyle modifications is recommended for effective EIA management during exercise.


  1. McFadden Jr, E.R. and Gilbert, I.A., 1994. Exercise-induced asthma. New England Journal of Medicine, 330(19), pp.1362-1367.
  2. Anderson, S.D. and Daviskas, E., 2000. The mechanism of exercise-induced asthma is…. Journal of allergy and clinical immunology, 106(3), pp.453-459.
  3. Carlsen, K.H. and Carlsen, K.C., 2002. Exercise-induced asthma. Paediatric respiratory reviews, 3(2), pp.154-160.
  4. Curran, M.P., Scott, L.J. and Perry, C.M., 2004. Cetirizine: a review of its use in allergic disorders. Drugs, 64, pp.523-561.
  5. Ghosh, S.K., De Vos, C., McIlroy, I. and Patel, K.R., 1991. Effect of cetirizine on exercise induced asthma. Thorax, 46(4), pp.242-244.
  6. Nelson, H.S., 2003. Prospects for antihistamines in the treatment of asthma. Journal of allergy and clinical immunology, 112(4), pp.S96-S100.
  7. Koya, T., Ueno, H., Hasegawa, T., Arakawa, M. and Kikuchi, T., 2020. Management of exercise-induced bronchoconstriction in athletes. The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology: In Practice, 8(7), pp.2183-2192.
  8. He, T. and Song, T., 2022. Exercise-induced bronchoconstriction in elite athletes: a narrative review. The Physician and Sportsmedicine, pp.1-9.

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Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:October 2, 2023

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