Off the Bench and into the Game A Look at Exercise Induced Asthma

As a coach and physician who treats asthma, I have a unique perspective on exercise induced asthma. As a coach, I frequently see girls who cough while playing softball.

As a physician I am asked to treat children who have asthma. Many parents have been told to withdraw their son/daughter from sports because of the misconception that people with asthma can not participate in these activities. This idea is simply not true. Children with asthma should not “take it easy” or watch from the sidelines.

Asthma affects 5 – 7% of the population and may be increasing in frequency. It should be considered a “inflammatory” condition of the lungs and causes swelling in the breathing tubes, contraction of small muscles in the larger breathing tubes and increased mucus.

Symptoms include cough, wheezing, chest tightness, and shortness of breath. There are many “triggers” for these symptoms but exercise is a frequent cause.

Factors leading to exercise induced asthma include cold dry air, insufficient warm-up time, sudden strenuous activity (sprints), and air pollution (including cigarette smoke!).

With exercise symptoms usually begin within 5-10 minutes after exercise begins and persist 15-30 minutes after exercise stops. In many children with exercise induced asthma, the only symptoms may be chest tightness and shortness of breath. When the child can’t keep up with the other players, they may be told they are “out of shape”.

Preventing symptoms of exercise induced asthma is usually not difficult. With proper treatment, your child should not have any limitation in his/her activities.

There are even people who participate in the Olympics who have asthma. A simple way to help prevent these symptoms is to warm up properly. There are also many medications available to both prevent and treat asthma. If you feel your child has the symptoms of exercised induced asthma, I would suggest discussing a treatment plan with your child’s personal physician.

All children should be encouraged to pursue whatever endeavor they wish. Certainly children with asthma should not be asked to alter their activities when asthma is easily treated and prevented. What a shame to keep them out of the game and on the bench. With apologies to John Fogerty “Put me in coach… I’m ready to play…today” (from the song Centerfield).