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Breathe Easy. Your Child Can Safely Play Sports with Asthma

If your child has asthma, you might worry that playing sports could cause symptoms to flare. But exercise is an essential part of health for everyone, and that includes children with asthma. Staying in good shape can help keep their lung function strong.

Cheryl Thome, RN, pediatric asthma program manager with Banner Children's, shares some tips on how children with asthma can play sports safely.

Choose the right sports

“It’s important for children to stay active,” Thome said. “There are so many sports to choose from. Find a type of physical activity your child enjoys.” That said, cold air can trigger asthma for some children. In that case, indoor sports like volleyball, swimming, dancing, fencing or martial arts could be good choices rather than cold weather sports like cross-country skiing or ice hockey.

Indoor sports might also be better options if your child’s asthma symptoms flare due to triggers such as grass, dirt, dust, pollen or mold.

Be prepared to manage symptoms

For exercise and asthma, Thome recommends this plan for your child to keep symptoms under control:

  • Take two puffs of the quick-relief inhaler with the spacer 15 minutes before starting exercise
  • Warm up with light exercise such as walking for five to 10 minutes
  • Drink plenty of water while exercising, and use the quick-relief inhaler if needed
  • After exercising, keep moving at a slower pace for at least five minutes to cool down
  • Stretch to finish

“It is important to have asthma symptoms under control to play sports,” Thome said. “When exercising, your child should always have their quick-relief inhaler with a spacer. Stop and follow the asthma action plan if asthma symptoms occur.” Your child may also need to use long-term control asthma medication, even when symptoms aren’t flaring.

It might be challenging for your child to manage exercise-induced asthma with sports that don’t provide a lot of opportunities for breaks, such as running, cycling or basketball. In that case, consider sports such as golf, yoga, gentle biking, baseball, football or gymnastics.

Involve coaches and other adults

Teachers, coaches, school nurses and other people supervising your child should know that your child has asthma. They should understand that your child needs to always have their quick-relief inhaler available. Share your child’s asthma action plan and any other instructions with them. That way, they will know what to do if an asthma attack occurs and when to call your child’s doctor or 911. If your child doesn’t have an asthma action plan, ask their doctor for one.

Know when your child needs a break

If your child’s asthma flares, playing sports or exercising could make it worse. “They should take a break from the activity until the symptoms subside,” Thome said. Children with asthma should also take it easy when they are recovering from an upper respiratory infection.

The bottom line

With the proper steps, children who have asthma can control their symptoms and gain the health benefits that come from sports and exercise. If you would like to connect with a health care professional who can help people with asthma, reach out to Banner Health. You can also download a free asthma workbook in English or Spanish.

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