Asthma and Athletics: No Reason Not to Compete

Published in Wellness Tag: David Ross, MD,MBA  

One in six young athletes have been diagnosed with asthma at some point.  A recent study by the Minnesota Department of Health found that middle school and high school students with asthma are just as likely as non-asthma peers to participate in sports.

As a family medicine provider in Litchfield, many of the youth I see are asthmatic.  When asthma is controlled, they are able to be normal kids doing normal things—and that includes being active in sports.

Asthma is a disease that results from tightening of the airway muscles and swelling of the bronchial tubes.  Normal breathing allows for air to flow freely in and out of the lungs.  During an asthma attack, the airways swell, muscles tighten around the airway and mucus clogs the tiny airways in the lungs, which makes breathing difficult.  Some people have occasional symptoms (like those with exercise-induced asthma) and others have symptoms that interfere daily.

Spring is the season of outdoor sports, but it is also a peak pollen season, which can be a major trigger of allergies and, as a result, asthma.  Other common triggers include dust, mold, air pollution, pet dander, respiratory infections and physical activity.

Asthma is no laughing matter: every year about 1,000 youth under the age of 18 are hospitalized because of asthma.  But there’s also no reason young people shouldn’t be physically active—even those with asthma.  All kids should be physically active – whether it’s in sports or getting exercise on their own.  Did you know that seventy-one percent of Minnesota youth in middle or high school with asthma compete in a club, community or school sports team compared to seventy percent of asthma-free youth who do?

Kids who have been diagnosed with asthma know the signs and know when they need to stop, but it’s a good idea for coaches and fellow teammates to recognize them as well.  Symptoms of asthma typically include one or more of the following: wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness and cough.  These symptoms can escalate quickly so it’s important that anyone having an asthma episode get treatment immediately.

Whether you are a parent or a coach, it’s always a good idea to make sure that your athlete has an asthma-action plan that includes a rescue inhaler, which works quickly to treat episodes before they occur or relieve symptoms as they are happening.

To all asthmatic athletes: lace up and hit the field, court, etc.  Just make sure your athlete remembered to pack their inhaler.  Let the games begin!