Breathe Easy Play Hard Foundation
Breathe Easy Play Hard
Exercise & Play Sports With Asthma
If you're a young jock and you've got asthma, you want to be or remain competitive. You will. Parents, coaches and gym teachers are all part of the same winning team here.

We're going ask the tough questions, give you the straight answers about how to most effectively deal with your asthma-so that you can win (in sports and in life) when the chips are down.

More good news... Not everyone is a natural athlete. You don't have to be one to get the benefits of exercise. Maybe playing sports is not your style, you'd rather chat or IM or surf the net, go shopping, talk on the cell phone or text, listen to music or play video games, watch TV or hang out with your friends. But you've got asthma, so no matter what, exercise is important and will make you healthier.
Think asthma is a possible reason if any of the following symptoms occur during or after exercise in a young person you know:
  • Coughing
  • Chest Tightness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Wheezing (high-pitched whistling sound)
Other associated symptoms of asthma to be on the lookout for are:
  • Tiring easily, not being able to "keep up," or being "out of shape"
  • Appearing shaky, pale or very flushed following exercise
  • Holding the chest while running
  • Chest pain or bad headache during or after exertion
  • Poor or inconsistent performance at any level of conditioning
  • Avoidance of physical exertion (for example, couch potatoes)
We all know that exercise is essential for everyone for so many reasons. But why is it so important when you have asthma?

Although some strenuous physical activity may cause flare-ups if asthma is not properly controlled, studies show that exercise may actually decrease the occurrence of asthma attacks by improving asthma control and lung function.

Exercise also prevents obesity, which can make your asthma symptoms worse.

And, here are some more reasons why it's important to get off and stay off the couch or stay focused on competing in your favorite sport.

  • Exercise produces long-term cardiovascular health from aerobic conditioning. Aerobic sports include basketball, hockey soccer and running.
  • Control your weight-not only will you look better but you'll feel better!
  • Breathe with ease by improving control of your asthma.
  • Show off that fancy footwork with improved hand-eye coordination and motor skills.
  • Increase your self-esteem and confidence in your ability to do anything to which you set your mind.
  • Be in a better mood and less stressed out more of the time. Be "in the zone" more frequently with everything in your life.
What Is Exercise-Induced Asthma (EIA)?
  • EIA is asthma triggered by physical activity, especially aerobic exercise. Up to 90% of young people with asthma can develop asthma symptoms with exercise.
  • For young athletes with asthma, the onset of the following symptoms may be the only indication that they have asthma: shortness of breath, coughing, chest tightness, wheezing, difficulty breathing, appearing shaky, pale or red during or after exercise, or just not being able to keep up with peers.
  • Do you know that asthma affects approximately 9 million young people in the U.S.- or 1 out of 10? EIA occurs in up to 90% of youth with asthma! But because asthma can often go undiagnosed, that 9 million number is probably a lot higher. EIA is a lot more common than you think.
What Is Exercise-Induced Bronchoconstriction (EIB) and Who Does It Affect?
  • EIB is the airway narrowing that occurs during or after physical exertion in susceptible young people.
  • Up to 90% of youth with asthma have EIB.
  • Up to 10% of the general population suffers from EIB.
  • An average of 30% of elite and competitive high school, college and Olympic athletes who have yet to be diagnosed with asthma are affected (a range of 12-50% depending on the sport).
What Causes The Airway Constriction in EIA or EIB?

When we exercise, the number of breaths we take per minute increases. We also tend to breathe in more air through our mouths, rather than through our nose. Breathing through our nose actually warms and moistens air to about 80% humidity, making it less irritating to the lungs.

But when young athletes with asthma exercise, they generally breathe cold dry air through their mouths triggering constriction in their sensitive airways which leads to asthma symptoms.

In young people with EIA or EIB, symptoms occur due to "hyperresponsiveness" or increased airway sensitivity and constriction caused by the changes in temperature and water content within the airways during exercise.
Hey, just take a look at our Asthma All-Stars section-and you'll see there is nothing you can't do with asthma!

As long as your asthma is properly diagnosed and managed, and if you follow the asthma regimen prescribed by your doctor, there is absolutely no reason why asthma should prevent you from reaching your competitive or consistent exercise goals.

Want to give yourself an edge? Understand the sport or activity you have chosen in relation to the preparation required to enjoy it.

Tips for Exercising with Asthma
  • Adhere To Your Individualized Asthma Management Plan

    The better your asthma is controlled, the better your overall athletic performance will be!

    In addition to being really good about taking your daily asthma medications (if prescribed), inhaling a beta-against (a bronchodilator that relaxes the muscles around the airways) and/or cromolyn sodium (prevents the body's immune cells from releasing irritating or inflammatory substances) may be beneficial before exercise.

    Other types of medications such as leukotriene modifiers (block the body's chemical and inflammatory reaction to triggers), inhaled corticosteroids (decrease airway inflammation) and ipatropium (opens airways by blocking nerve reflexes that tighten muscles around the airways) have also been shown to be useful for the treatment of exercise-induced asthma.

    The need for one or a combination of these medications will be determined by your physician. There is no one regimen that works optimally for everyone.

    Be sure to take the pre-exercise inhaler(s) 15 to 20 minutes prior to starting. This will prevent or lessen the airway constriction triggered by exercise.

    For detailed info on asthma medications, click here
  • Warm Up Before Workouts

    Don't jump right into physical activity. During the 15 to 20 minute period after you take your inhaler, warm up! A five to ten minute warm-up can prevent chest tightening. By gradually increasing levels of exercise it will help your body and lungs prepare for more intense activity. Warm-up exercises include brisk walking, jogging in place, jumping rope or doing jumping jacks.
  • Breathe Through Your Nose

    Your nose warms up and humidifies the air that you breathe in before it reaches your lungs. Since cold air is a major trigger of bronchoconstriction (EIA and EIB), breathe through your nose as much as possible or use a ski gator or scarf to cover your nose and mouth while exercising outdoors in cold weather.
  • Cool Down After Workouts

    Stretching and jogging in place after physical exertion may slow the change over of air in the lungs from cold back to warm and lessens the chance of symptoms occurring after you finish exercising.
  • Be Mindful of Indoor and Outdoor Influences

    Limit indoor and outdoor exercise during a cold or respiratory infection. Limit outdoor activity when air pollution levels (ozone, for example), or seasonal allergen levels such as pollen or mold (if you are sensitive to them) are very high.
Certain Sports May Aggravate Asthma

Certain activities may be more likely to aggravate your asthma than others. Highly aerobic, endurance sports that require a lot of stamina, like long distance running, cycling, soccer, hockey and basketball can cause you to become winded resulting in exercise-induced asthma (EIA) and exercise-induced bronchospasm (EIB).

Vigorous cold weather sports such as ice hockey and cross-country skiing have an even higher rate of EIA and EIB. Did you know that as many as 50% of elite cross-country skiers have EIB? That's because the intensity of the activity (how hard it makes you breathe) and breathing in cold air can cause your airways to narrow, resulting in asthma symptoms. The chemical used to re-surface the ice can also trigger asthma symptoms for ice hockey and figure skaters.

So What Do You Do If You Have Asthma But Enjoy Playing These Sports?

Just make sure you play smart. For example, if you are supposed to take an inhaler before exercise, take it about fifteen to twenty minutes prior to the start of physical activity. Follow this with a warm-up, including stretching and light aerobic exercise to open up the airways.

Try your best to breathe through your nose as much as possible during exercise because the nose warms the air and makes it less irritating to your airways. You can also wear an athletic face mask that helps warm the air while you breathe. Many topnotch Olympic athletes with asthma wear these masks while practicing.

You started with a warm-up, so end with a cool-down. It can help slow the change of air temperature in the lungs, lessening asthma symptoms.

Do not feel ashamed if you need to take a brief rest during activity. Without doubt, you'll come back stronger and ready to play.

Remember if you don't feel well and you are have difficulty breathing, stop exercising immediately and alert a coach or parent.

Sports That Are Less Likely To Irritate Asthma

There are several sports and related activities that provide exercise and competition-but are considered less vigorous and less likely to trigger asthma responses than the ones mentioned above. If you do not see your chosen activity or favorite sport listed below, talk to your physician about the specifics.

The list of suggestions include:

-recreational biking
-short track and field events
-water skiing
Breathe Easy, Play Hard
Dr. J's "No Scuba Advised" Policy

It has been traditionally recommended that children diagnosed with asthma should not dive because:
  • There is a reduced breathing capacity or inability to expand the lungs related to the underwater depth, which may further compromise someone with asthma.
  • The narrowing of the airways and excess mucus that is present in asthma may cause an obstruction to airflow during ascent and exhalation, increasing the chance of a serious air pocket developing in the chest (pneumothorax, pneumomediastinum).
  • Scuba diving is usually done in an isolated location, removed from emergency medical care in the event that it is needed.

The Undersea and Hyperbaric Medical Society (UHMS) has recently prepared more liberal guidelines that take into account the severity of asthma and how well it is controlled around the time of a dive. Consultation with a physician is strongly advised for any young person with asthma who wants to scuba.

Dr. J.'s "Bonus" Sports and Exercise Pick

All you swimmers out there are in luck.

Swimming is an excellent sport for athletes with asthma. It offers great aerobic and lung conditioning and upper-body toning. And you don't have to worry about irritating your airways by breathing in cold air because it is already warmed and humidified.

However, be careful if you swim in an indoor pool that is highly chlorinated and poorly ventilated because when chlorine comes in contact with sweat and other natural materials, it may produce an irritant that triggers asthma symptoms.

In fact, elite swimmers like those who will compete in the 2008 Olympics and have been swimming since childhood, have a higher incidence of asthma. This effect can be eliminated through awareness and encouraging the use of disinfectants that do not contain chlorine.
For lots more information about "what is asthma" click here.
For a list of our Asthma All-Stars, or to apply to become an Asthma All-Star yourself, here.
For smart tips for youth, parents and coaches, click here.
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