Allercy and Asthma Health
The Official Publication of AAN - MA

Can People with Asthma Play Competitive Sports?


by Denita Landsaw, RRT-NPS, AE-C

The answer to this question is a resounding YES! Ask Jerome Bettis, Art Monk, Emmitt Smith or countless other professional athletes who have gone on to achieve amazing success despite having asthma. The key is having control over asthma, not asthma having control over you!

Symptoms of Exercise Induced Asthma (EIA) include shortness of breath and difficulty breathing, coughing, chest tightness, chest pain, and wheezing. People who have EIA have airways that become sensitive or overreactive to changes in temperature, humidity, or breathing patterns. Most people tend to breathe through their mouths instead of their nose during strenuous exercise and this allows cold or dry air to reach the lower airways without being filtered, warmed, and humidified by the nose.

Follow these 10 tips to gain and maintain control of asthma and compete at a level never thought possible!

  • Tip # 1 Use your short-acting reliever medication approximately 15 minutes before exercise or the sporting event. Remember, this may have to be repeated within 4–6 hours if you have an all-day event.
    Parents, it is important that you work with the school staff to develop a plan to ensure your child has immediate access to their reliever medication (like albuterol or levalbuterol) and or other required medications such as an Epi Pen™ (injectable epinephrine) to treat severe reactions.
  • Tip # 2 Use a warm-up period to reduce or lessen EIA and avoid large changes in environmental temperature.
  • Tip # 3 Make it a point to breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth.
  • Tip # 4 Stop, rest, and treat yourself if any of these symptoms occur. Follow your “asthma action plan” as prescribed by your physician. If you don’t have an asthma action plan, then ask your health care provider or respiratory therapist.
  • Tip # 5 Keep an asthma diary to track your symptoms and use it to speak with your physician/health care provider.
  • Tip # 6 Allergens and pollen are highest in the spring and fall seasons. If possible, plan your outdoor activities for early in the day and remember to shower and change clothes after coming indoors to remove any pollen from your body and hair. If you smoke, STOP!
  • Tip # 7 Learn your triggers and avoid them whenever possible. If you are unsure, speak with a physician to identify your triggers.
  • Tip # 8 Keep windows and doors shut during high-pollen days. Look for reports of pollen counts and updates on the ozone warning days.
  • Tip # 9 Take your medicine as prescribed. If you have been prescribed a daily controller, take it consistently. Seek advice of your physician or pharmacist before adding any over-the-counter medications.
  • Tip #10 Get your influenza vaccination as soon as it becomes available by your health care provider. Colds, viruses, and other illnesses can make you more susceptible to EIA and ruin your athletic performance.

Staying active can be a wonderful adjunctive therapy to maintaining control of your asthma!

Denita Landsaw is a member of the American Association for Respiratory Care from Garland, TX. She serves as a team leader of asthma patient education and respiratory acute care services at Children’s Medical Center in Dallas, TX.

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