You might remember a time when kids with asthma were discouraged from playing sports and told to take it easy. That's no longer the case. Being active, working out, and playing sports not only help kids with asthma stay fit, maintain a healthy weight, and have fun but also can strengthen their breathing muscles and help the lungs work better.
For these reasons, your doctor may recommend exercise as part of your child's asthma treatment plan. If you have doubts about whether sports and asthma mix, the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology reports that asthma affects more than 20% of elite athletes and 1 in every 6 Olympic athletes.
Two important things that kids who have asthma should know about sports participation:
- Their asthma must be under control in order for them to play sports properly.
- When their asthma is well controlled, they can — and should — be active and play sports just like anyone else.
Of course, some sports are less likely to pose problems than others for people with asthma. Swimming, leisurely biking, and walking are less likely to trigger asthma flare-ups, as are sports that require short bursts of activity like baseball, football, gymnastics, and shorter track and field events.
Endurance sports, like long-distance running and cycling, and sports like soccer and basketball, which require extended energy output, may be more challenging. This is especially true for cold-weather sports like cross-country skiing or ice hockey. But that doesn't mean kids can't participate in these sports if they truly enjoy them. In fact, many athletes with asthma have found that, with proper training and medication, they can participate in any sport they choose.
Staying in the Game
To keep asthma under control, it's important that kids take their medicine as prescribed. Skipping long-term control medicine (also called controller or maintenance medicine) can make symptoms worse, and forgetting to take a prescribed medication before exercise can lead to severe flare-ups and even emergency department visits.
Your child should carry quick-relief medicine (also called rescue or fast-acting medicine) at all times, even during workouts, in case of a flare-up.
It's also a good idea to keep triggers in mind. Depending on their triggers, kids with asthma may want to:
- Skip outdoor workouts when pollen or mold counts are high.
- Wear a scarf or ski mask when training outside during the winter.
- Breathe through the nose instead of the mouth while exercising.
- Make sure they always have time for a careful warm up and cool down.
These recommendations should be included in the asthma action plan you create with your child's doctor.
Also make sure that the coach knows about your child's asthma and the asthma action plan. For a young child, you might want to provide the coach with a copy. Older kids should keep a copy with them, as well as any medication that could be needed to treat a flare-up.
Most important, your child and the coach need to understand when it's time for your child to take a break from a practice or game so that flare-ups can be managed before they become emergencies.
Reviewed by: Elana Pearl Ben-Joseph, MD
Date reviewed: January 2014