Game Plan for Athletes With Asthma

Vol. 16 •Issue 5 • Page 40
Patient Primer

Game Plan for Athletes With Asthma

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He shoots, he scores, he — reaches for his asthma inhaler? Although this is some play-by-play commentary you don’t hear too often, you might be surprised to know just how many athletes have asthma.

On a team of 15 players, you can expect to find one or two team members with asthma. However, many of these athletes probably haven’t revealed their asthma symptoms to coaches in fear that they won’t be allowed to play anymore. It’s important for athletes to understand that with accurate diagnosis and proper management, they can participate in almost any sport or exercise.

Stay ahead of the game

Different factors aggravate asthma in different people. Athletes who have an allergic component to their asthma will react to factors such as pollen, mold, animal dander, and dust. Others may find their asthma worsens when practicing outside on a cold day or when air pollution levels are high. Knowing your triggers is essential to good asthma control.

Some players may have asthma that’s triggered only by physical activity, which is called exercise-induced asthma. The symptoms are the same as those for exacerbations caused by other asthma triggers: fast, hard breathing; coughing; wheezing; and a tight chest. An exercise-induced asthma attack usually doesn’t occur during exercise, but symptoms may appear within five to 10 minutes after exercise and may last as long as 30 minutes.

A strong defense

Whether you deal with asthma on a daily basis or you only experience exercise-induced attacks, developing an asthma action plan with your health care provider is essential. This action plan will help track your symptoms, identify which medications you need, and tell you when to use them.

The plan also can include recommendations for your workout routine such as warming up for five to 10 minutes before exercise and cooling down for 10 to 30 minutes afterward.

Make sure your coaches have copies of the plan, and bring it along with your correct medication to all practices and games. Always check that your canisters are full. Remember, it isn’t OK to share inhalers; each player with asthma should have his own medication close by.

To keep athletes with asthma safe, it’s crucial for coaches, trainers, parents, and athletes to communicate and be prepared to deal with an attack.

Here’s what to do:

  • Stop the activity.
  • Follow your asthma action or emergency plan.
  • If you have a rescue inhaler, use it immediately.
  • Repeat if symptoms continue.
  • Only resume activity if and when your symptoms are completely gone.
  • If symptoms reoccur after you go back to play, repeat these steps, and don’t play for the rest of the game.
  • If you don’t have access to rescue medication, or your symptoms are getting worse, ask a coach or teammate to call 911 immediately.

    Building a support system

    Athletes experiencing an asthma exacerbation should never feel pushed to “tough it out” or “walk it off.” If you experience teasing from other teammates, remind them of the many successful athletes with asthma: NBA players Isiah Thomas and Dennis Rodman, NFL star Jerome Bettis, and Olympic gold medalist Jackie Joyner-Kersee.

    Read other tips on how to manage asthma as an athlete at, which also features a free online presentation for coaches.

    Information adapted from the Minnesota Department of Health Asthma Program and the Coach’s Asthma Clipboard Program.

    Colleen Mullarkey is editorial assistant of ADVANCE. She can be reached at [email protected].