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Can Kids With Asthma Play Sports?

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Updated: June 30, 2008

Question: Can Kids With Asthma Play Sports?

Many parents fear that being active and participating in sports might be harmful for their kids with asthma, especially when symptoms get worse during such activities. Are exercise and asthma a good combination?

Answer: Kids who have asthma should be able to live normal, active, play-filled lives, just like kids without asthma, provided they are receiving the right treatment to control their asthma symptoms. In past generations, parents of kids with asthma may have been advised to limit their childrens' activities so as to avoid asthma symptoms. But we now know that is exactly the wrong thing to do.

Active play, including many types of sports, has many benefits for both kids and adults, including:

  • Physical fitness
  • Healthy weight
  • Socialization
  • Mental health
  • Better sleep

In addition, sports can help strengthen a child's breathing muscles, helping the airways and lungs work better.

When a child has asthma, a personalized asthma management plan is important. In most cases, this includes a daily controller medicine that will keep asthma symptoms in check, as well as a quick-relief inhaler to be used when symptoms do worsen.

Sometimes, people with asthma notice symptoms worsen during vigorous exercise / sports, especially when played outdoors in hot weather or very cold weather. If your child experiences symptoms of exercise-induced asthma, check with your doctor about using the quick-relief inhaler before exercise. This is usually enough to keep symptoms from getting out of control.

Many athletes, including those of Olympic caliber, participate in sports even though they have asthma. If asthma is under control, there is no reason it should keep your child from participating in sports too. But, a little common sense about the type of sports may help.

As a general rule, sports that are high-intensity and sustained, and from which it is difficult or impossible to take breaks, are generally not well-tolerated by people with asthma. You might think of these as endurance sports. Sports done in cold, dry air are less well-tolerated than those done in warm, humid air.

So, some examples of sports that your child may be able to do without asthma getting in the way could include:

  • Swimming for fun, or short competitive events
  • Leisurely biking
  • Walking
  • Baseball
  • Football
  • Gymnastics
  • Short track and field events

The following sports may be less well-tolerated, because they require greater effort, long periods of endurance, or are done outside in the winter:

  • Long-distance running
  • Long-distance, competitive cycling
  • Soccer
  • Basketball
  • Cross-country or downhill skiing or ice hockey

Also, it's important to note that scuba diving should NOT be attempted by people with asthma. The risk of having an asthma attack while deep underwater and not being able to return quickly to the surface (because of the risk of "the bends") to use a rescue inhaler is too great.

These are only general guidelines, though. If your child enjoys any sports activity and tolerates it well, with the proper training, preparation, and asthma treatment, there is no reason to limit his activity.

Steps That Can Help

Besides taking prescribed controller medicines, make sure your child always carries a rescue inhaler during exercise, just in case. In addition, in cold weather, pulling a scarf or neck gaiter over the mouth can warm the air breathed in. In warm weather, track pollen / mold counts and forgo activity when counts are dangerously high. Finally, encourage your child to take time for warming up before exercise and cooling down afterwards.

Also, be sure to tell sports coaches that your child has asthma and pass on a copy of the Asthma Action Plan.

In Case of Asthma Attack

Even if you do everything right, sometimes an asthma attack might happen. If it does, your child should stop the activity right away and use his rescue inhaler. If there is no relief from symptoms after using the inhaler, get emergency help immediately.

Sources:

Kallings LV; Emtner M; Backlund L. Exercise-induced bronchoconstriction in adults with asthma--comparison between running and cycling and between cycling at different air conditions. Ups J Med Sci 1999;104(3):191-8

Mayo Clinic Staff, "Children and exercise-induced asthma: Playing sports safely." MayoClinic.com. 31May2008. Mayo Clinic. 28 Jun 2008 <http://mayoclinic.com/health/asthma/as00027>.

"Exercise & Asthma." 28 Sep 2006. Canadian Lung Association. 31 May 2008

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