Preventative Measures for Asthmatic Athletes

As summer rolls into fall, asthmatic athletes have a few additional obstacles to overcome compared to other athletes due to their risk for asthma attacks. This seasonal transition often takes a toll on asthmatic athletes due to the change from hot, humid air to dry, colder air. However, with proper education and prevention asthma shouldn’t have to sideline your child.


Asthma is a disease involving the respiratory system which consists of the airway and lungs. There are 2 basic components: Inflammation or swelling of the tissues in the respiratory tract and constriction of the airway known as bronchospasm. This process leads to the symptoms of asthma which consist of coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, pain/tightness in the chest and fatigue.

Asthma can be triggered by any number of things including allergens, respiratory infections, weather conditions and physical activity. People with normal resting lung function who develop symptoms only with exercise have what is known as exercised-induced asthma. Some other conditions that can be mistaken for asthma, especially in athletes, are heartburn/reflux, heart problems and vocal-cord dysfunction.

Prevention and Treatment

Asthma is best managed under the care of a physician who must first confirm the proper diagnosis based on symptoms and lung testing. Once asthma has been diagnosed, the first step in treatment is to identify and eliminate triggers. For mild cases, a fast-acting inhaler like albuterol may be used to treat symptoms once they occur. For more severe asthma, a daily preventive medicine such as an inhaled steroid may be needed. It is always best to have an emergency plan in place in the instance all other methods fail.

The key to keeping your asthma under control is prevention. If you are someone who regularly gets symptoms during exercise, using a fast-acting inhaler before an event can help prevent attacks. It should be used as your physician instructed.  Taking your medication at the correct time prior to physical activity will allow it to have its full effect.  If this measure is not adequate in controlling symptoms during exercise, a daily preventative medicine may be needed.

There are a few steps you can take to minimize your risk of an asthmatic attack:

  • Talk to your physician if you suspect you may have exercise-induced asthma or your current inhaler may not be working.
  • Reduce your risk of allergic exposures by avoiding triggers
  • If prescribed by your physician, pre-treat airways with inhalers prior to exercise
  • Condition your lungs with an adequate warm-up and cool-down

General Treatment Considerations

If you suspect your child may be suffering from asthma consult your primary care physician. If the symptoms do not resolve in a timely matter or continue to linger go directly to the nearest emergency room. It is important to take note on the type, length, frequency, and severity of symptoms so the physicians can treat the patient accordingly. Consult your physician if you are having difficulty managing your asthma effectively.

Nationwide Children’s Hospital Sports Medicine specializes in diagnosing and treating sports-related injuries in youth, adolescent, and collegiate athletes.  Services are available in multiple locations throughout central Ohio.  To make an appointment, call 614-355-6000 or request an appointment online.

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