Don't Let Exercise-Induced Asthma Sideline Your Child

exercise-induced asthma

My child has exercise-induced asthma. Now what?

Look across the U.S. and you see playgrounds full of kids running, skipping, climbing, and jumping. All familiar and favorite activities of childhood. 

But not for everyone.

Dr. Eric Small, M.D. in his book, Kids & Sports, suggests that as many as 15% of American children have varying degrees of breathing problems that make exercise difficult.

backyard playground

Lots of kids suffer from asthma, a chronic condition in which the airways in the lungs narrow, become swollen, and fill with mucous, making it very hard to breathe.  

If you suffer from asthma or other chronic breathing conditions, playing sports and doing physical activity can be uncomfortable.

But the good news is, asthma does not have to mean the end of sports!

Just ask U.S. track star, Jack Joyner Kersee.

She found a way to successfully balance training and medication to keep her asthma in check and go on to win gold medals in the 1988 and 1992 Olympic games!


exercise induced asthma

When you are physically active, your heart beats faster and you breathe faster so your lungs can deliver oxygen to the working muscles of your body.

Breathing faster usually means inhaling through your mouth instead of your nose which cools and dries the air going to your lungs. This cooler, drier air causes the air passages to constrict, triggering asthma symptoms.


So what triggers an asthma attack? Well, lots of things.

  • Substances in the air like pollen, dust mites, mold spores, and pet dander
  • Smoke from cigarettes and wood fires
  • Strong chemical fumes
  • Air pollution
  • Respiratory illnesses like cold, flu, sinus infection, pneumonia
  • Cold air, dry wind, or sudden weather changes
  • Stress or other intense emotions
  • Exercise - physical activity makes you breathe harder which can trigger asthma.
cold weather


It's important to recognize the symptoms so you can take action if needed. You may only exhibit one:

  • Coughing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Fatigue
  • Wheezing
  • Lips turn white
  • Tightness in throat

Symptoms typically show up 5-20 minutes after the start of exercise, and they may be worse 5-10 minutes after exercise is over.

7 Ways to prevent exercise-induced asthma

winter sports gear
  1. Take 2 puffs on your prescribed inhaler 10-15 minutes before beginning activity.
  2. Keep a scarf around your face to hold in heat and moisture.
  3. Avoid exercising in the cold.
  4. Keep a daily log of your breathing rate before, during, and after exercise. If your air flow is low, you may need 2 extra puffs from your inhaler or exercise intensity may need to be kept low.
  5. Include a 6-10 minute warm-up routine to stabilize your breathing before beginning vigorous exercise.
  6. Consider the air quality and temperature outside. Allergens, dangerous ozone conditions, extreme heat, and high humidity could mean outside activity should be avoided.
  7. Stay hydrated! If you don't drink enough water, you are more likely to have trouble breathing during exercise. 

(Dr. Eric Small, M.D., Kids & Sports: Everything You and Your Child Need to Know About Sports, Physical Activity, and Good Health - A Doctor's Guide for Parents and Coaches)

You don't have to be sidelined. Just pick the right sport.

So, which kids sports are best if my child has exercise-induced asthma?

Best - These sports are least likely to trigger asthma attacks:

  • Sports that use short bursts of exercise (like gymnastics, baseball, and volleyball)
  • Swimming
  • Walking
  • Easy biking 

Worst - These sports may be more likely to trigger asthma symptoms: 

  • Cold/dry weather sports (like ice hockey, snowboarding, skiing, ice skating)
  • Sports that require continual endurance activity like long distance running, basketball, and soccer.

Want to ensure your child's exercise-induced asthma is well-managed at school? Here are some guidelines.

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