If your child’s asthma is triggered when playing sports, it’s important to be able to work with the coach to help manage the symptoms and ensure your child has a positive experience. Your child should be able to participate fully in sports and exercise even though he or she has asthma. In fact, staying physically active is important to a healthy lifestyle and helps keep your child’s lungs strong and healthy.
Unfortunately, many coaches aren’t prepared to handle children with asthma. In 2011, only half of children’s athletic coaches knew how to recognize asthma symptoms, and a third of them hadn’t received sufficient training to deal with the needs of asthmatic team members, according to a study by Cooper University Hospital.
Consequently, you may need to take matters into your own hands and provide this information to your child’s coach.
Exercise-induced asthma generally occurs when the air is cool and dry and the child is participating in an endurance sport. Poor ventilation and air filled with pollutants can also trigger symptoms during exercise.
However, scientists are still baffled as to why exercise causes attacks in some asthma sufferers. During an asthma attack, the small bronchial tubes of the lungs tighten from swelling and inflammation, and muscle spasms in the bronchial walls can occur. This results in symptoms such as wheezing, coughing, tightness in the chest and difficulty breathing.
If your child experiences exercise-induced asthma symptoms, being proactive about managing them can go a long way toward helping him or her succeed at sports.
Talking to a Health Care Provider
If your child has exercise-induced asthma, control may come in the form of medication and following a physician’s recommendations before participating in physical activity. Your physician may need to make some adjustments to your child’s asthma control medication, and he or she may also prescribe use of quick-relief medication before exercise.
Other ways a child can practice both asthma control and sports include:
- Cross training or trying different sports to see if one is easier on the lungs.
- Using a scarf or face mask when the air is cold.
- Avoiding exercise in the early morning.
- Increasing the child’s fitness level. (If a child is out of shape, his or her asthma symptoms may improve with his fitness level.)
Creating an Asthma Action Plan
A great tool to keep in your child’s asthma control arsenal is an Asthma Action Plan. You can get a blank Asthma Action Plan form from the Lungtropolis website or ask your child’s doctor to fill one out. The Asthma Action Plan is a simple form to help you manage your child’s asthma. It contains the following information:
- Medications, along with dosage and timing, including medication to take before exercising
- Known asthma triggers
- Emergency contact information
- Steps to take when asthma symptoms appear
- What to do if your child has a breathing emergency
Communication with Coaches
The best way to make sure your child’s coach knows what to do if your child has symptoms during exercise or sports is to tell him or her yourself. Give the coach a copy of your child’s completed Asthma Action Plan and explain that your child needs to pre-medicate before exercise. Also describe the signs that indicate your child’s asthma symptoms are getting worse and the medication your child needs to use when that happens. Give a copy of the action plan to the assistant coach and the school nurse, as well, so they have a better understanding of your child’s condition.
The interactive web-based learning game Lungtropolis® was created to help children ages 5-10 control their asthma. The site also incorporates resources for parents featuring comprehensive tips on caring for a child with asthma, like how to start an asthma action plan.
Susan Schroeder, MPH, MCHES, PMP, is a Research Scientist at ORCAS. She has over 12 years’ experience as an intervention designer and content developer of Web-based health programs. Ms. Schroeder is Principal Investigator on the Multimedia Asthma Self-Management Program and working on four other NIH-funded projects to develop innovative mHealth self-management solutions for physical and emotional well-being.