Loading

Sports, Other Activities, and Asthma

If you can't keep up with the other kids in gym class, can't seem to be able to "get in shape" no matter how much you work out, or have trouble breathing after exercise when your classmates don't, then exercise might be triggering your asthma. There are ways to manage asthma that is triggered by exercise, and having your asthma under control will keep you breathing easy at the top of your game! Read on to learn about asthma in sports and other activities.

Just the facts:

  • The fitter you are, the better your lungs work.
  • The better your lungs work, the fewer problems you should have with your asthma.
  • The fewer problems you have with your asthma, the better you'll feel and the more you'll be able to do.
  • There are lots of ways to get exercise. Find one that you like, and work with your doctor or asthma educator to keep asthma under control.
  • Having an Asthma Action Plan takes all the mystery out of treating your asthma. Make sure your coaches have a copy, and know what to do if you need help.

Exercise-Induced Asthma (EIA)
Some people have asthma that is triggered only by physical activity, called exercise-induced asthma (EIA). Just as with other asthma triggers, a person who is triggered into an asthma attack by exercise has airways that narrow and tighten after they begin exercising. Fast, hard breathing, coughing, wheezing and a tight chest are signs of an asthma attack. An asthma attack can be very serious, even life-threatening.

  • Symptoms of EIA can be made much worse with seasonal allergies.
  • The symptoms usually start during exercise or within 5 to 10 minutes after exercise, and may last as long as 30 minutes.
  • If a person with EIA doesn't get treatment, they will often limit themselves from taking part in sports or other activities. Remember, EIA can be controlled, so that people who suffer from it can be as active as they want to be.

Asthma Action Plans
Make sure you talk to your doctor or asthma educator about what to do before, during and after exercise to keep you from having asthma symptoms. Then follow the Asthma Action Plan prescribed by your doctor. The following steps can help you and your doctor make a plan that works for you:

  • Keep an activity diary in which you write down your activities and when you have asthma symptoms. It's a good idea to write down the steps you took to get relief, too, so that you can show your doctor how the treatment plan is working.
  • When you take your medication can be very important. Ask your doctor about the best times to take each of your medications in relation to your exercise schedule.
  • When you are being active, pay attention to the kinds of exercises that feel best to you, and the amount of time you can do them without asthma symptoms. For example, can you get through a whole marching band or football practice? How far can you run comfortably? By telling the doctor about your limits and abilities, he or she may be able to help you increase them, or help you find new ways to be active.
  • If you follow your Asthma Action Plan and still have trouble breathing while working out, tell your doctor. He or she should be able to tweak the plan to keep you breathing easy.

Which sport or activity is best for you?
If your asthma is under control, then you should be able to do pretty much anything you enjoy. On the other hand, there are a few things you should think about when choosing a sport or activity:

Season: Does your asthma get worse in different seasons? If it does you may want to think about what season your activity takes place in. For example, if pollen makes you wheeze, spring training for baseball may give you trouble. This doesn't mean that you can't play baseball. It means that you should talk to your doctor or asthma educator to make sure your medications will keep you symptom-free while you play.

Time Outs: Sometimes people with asthma do better in activities with definite starts and stops. Some activities with built in "time outs" for rest include baseball, gymnastics and marching band. Sports like soccer don’t allow as much rest time, and this may make the sport hard if your asthma is severe. In these kinds of sports, think about playing a position that doesn’t require quite so much running, and you can still be involved and have fun.

The big picture: An activity may seem like a good fit for you in some ways, but there may be other reasons not to choose it. For example, swimming is frequently a great choice because the added moisture in the air at the pool soothes inflamed lungs. On the other hand, some people have asthma that is triggered by chlorine. So look at the whole environment of the activity before you make your choice.

What are the best ways to deal with asthma and exercise?
Try these tips:

  • Start with a 15-minute warm-up to allow the lungs to adjust to the increased demand for oxygen.
  • In cold weather, cover your mouth and nose with a scarf to help warm the air before it gets to the lungs.
  • Avoid triggers that may cause or worsen your asthma (for example, don't exercise outdoors when pollen counts are high if pollen is a trigger for you).
  • End with a 15-minute cool-down rather than stopping abruptly.
  • Follow your doctor's instructions about using asthma medication before or after exercise. If you're on a team, be sure your coach has a copy of your Asthma Action Plan.

Be extra careful when:

  • You've got a cold or other viral infection
  • It's pollen season, or a cold, dry day (if these are your triggers)

With these added problems, even gentle exercise could trigger an asthma attack.

If you have symptoms, use a quick-relief medicine right away. Don't push yourself. Stop and rest if you need to.

Remember, long-term controller medicines like corticosteriods (such as Flovent or Pulmicort) should not be taken during an asthma attack because they do not open the airways quickly. If you don't know which inhaler is the right one to take for quick relief, ask your doctor, asthma educator or pharmacist to tell you before you need it in a hurry.

Who says you can't be great?

  • At the 1996 Olympic Games, at least one in six athletes from the U.S. had a history of asthma, had taken asthma medications or had symptoms that suggested asthma. In fact, the athletes with asthma won just as many team or individual medals as their peers without asthma.

  • Did you know that some famous athletes have asthma? These athletes have learned to control their symptoms, and perform at the top level of their sport.

    • Jerome Bettis – professional football player
    • Bruce Davidson – Olympic equestrian
    • Tom Dolan – Olympic medalist, swimming
    • Chris Draft – professional football player
    • Kurt Grote – Olympic medalist, swimming
    • Nancy Hogshead – Olympic medalist, swimming
    • Juwan Howard – professional basketball player
    • Jim "Catfish" Hunter – professional baseball player
    • Jackie Joyner-Kersee – Olympic medalist, track
    • Bill Koch – Olympic medalist, cross-country skiing
    • Greg Louganis – Olympic medalist, diving
    • Tom Malchow – Olympic medalist, swimming
    • Debbie Meyer – Olympic medalist, swimming
    • Art Monk – professional football player
    • George Murray – wheelchair athlete & Boston Marathon winner
    • Robert Muzzio – decathlete
    • Dennis Rodman – professional basketball player
    • Jim Ryun – Olympic medalist, track
    • Alberto Salazar – marathon runner
    • Emmitt Smith – professional football player
    • Karin Smith – Olympic javelin specialist
    • Isaiah Thomas – professional basketball player
    • Amy VanDyken – Olympic medalist, swimming
    • Bonnie Warner – Olympic Luge specialist
    • Dominique Wilkins – professional basketball player
    • Kristi Yamaguchi – Olympic medalist, figure skating
    • Theresa Zabell – Olympic medalist, sailing

To learn more, visit the FAQs page to learn the answers to many teens' questions about asthma.

Adapted from "Asthma & Physical Activity in the School," National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, NIH Publication No. 01-3651, 1995 and Xhale, GlaxoSmithKline's magazine for teens, with permission, 2001