Should we avoid endurance sports that trigger asthma in our kids? My 7-year-old daughter loves her hockey, but now needs an inhaler to prevent wheezing episodes during practices and games. I’m worried about the long-term effects of this medicine and wonder if we should direct her into a different sport.
Asthma is a condition causing swelling and narrowing of the airways, and symptoms can range from mild to severe. People with asthma have sensitive airways that react to triggers. Most people are able to control their asthma symptoms with the use of medications. It would be best to talk to your daughter’s healthcare provider, review her asthma symptoms and determine if her asthma is well controlled. As long as her asthma is under control, there is no need to direct her into a different sport. Many professional athletes have asthma and do well, but only if their asthma is under control first. If your daughter’s symptoms are severe and not well controlled with medications, an alternative activity may need to be considered.
In addition to exercise and cold air, other common asthma triggers include animals, mold, cockroaches, smog, strong odors, weather, upper respiratory infections, pollen, dust, smoke, food additives, medicine and emotions. Asthma can be hereditary. Triggers cause the airways to become inflamed, swollen and narrowed.
Symptoms of asthma include wheezing, noisy breathing, coughing — often at night or early in the morning or with exercise — chest tightness, shortness of breath or feeling tired. During flare-ups, symptoms may increase and include breathing fast at rest.
Managing your daughter’s asthma involves identifying her asthma triggers with your health care provider, maintaining good control of her asthma symptoms and taking medications if needed. Medications for asthma have few side effects and play a key role in controlling asthma and can prevent bad flare-ups. Children can play a role in managing their asthma early by learning about what asthma is, understanding and avoiding their own triggers and knowing how and when to appropriately use a rescue inhaler.
A severe flare-up should be taken seriously, especially if symptoms are not relieved by medication or if a rescue inhaler is not on hand. When the body is unable to get enough oxygen for a period of time, body tissues and organs begin to die. If someone is having a severe asthma flare-up, call 911.
Long-term control medication helps reduce swelling and inflammation. It makes the airways less sensitive to triggers, is taken on a schedule every day and helps keep asthma under control. The maintenance medication will not stop a flare-up once it has begun. A rescue inhaler works by relaxing the muscles around the airways and should be used when needed, when asthma is getting worse and before exercise. This medication will open the airways within a few minutes after use.
Preventing asthma flare-ups involves working in a sustained partnership with your provider. If exercise is a trigger for asthma, it’s important that all medications are taken as prescribed, even when no symptoms are present. Vacuum and wash bedding frequently to control dust and dust mites. Keep pets out of the bedroom and off the bed if animal allergies are identified. Be sure to send a rescue inhaler along if your child is sleeping over at a friend’s house and talk with the parents about your child’s asthma. Keep windows closed during allergy seasons to limit asthma flare-ups caused by pollen.
Uncontrolled asthma can become a physical and emotional roller-coaster ride for both child and parent. Controlling your child’s asthma through preventive measures, medications and treatment will help to minimize sick days and enable him or her to pursue all the activities they enjoy. Talk to your health care provider today to discuss your asthma symptoms and your Asthma Action Plan.
Michelle Napral is a nurse practitioner at the University of Minnesota Health Nurse Practitioners Clinic, 3rd Street & Chicago. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.