Asthma and The Young Athlete

Carlos Childrens' Logo2By Carlos Flores RN FCN

It is estimated that 15% to 25% of athletes have signs and symptoms suggestive of asthma. By definition, asthma refers to the disease process in which an airway becomes narrowed or blocked causing difficulty with breathing. Symptoms include coughing, wheezing, or shortness of breath. These symptoms may be mild to severe and are often brought on by exposure to allergens (things we’re allergic to), exercise, poor air quality, and cold, dry weather. Severe symptoms may lead to hospitalizations and when uncontrolled can lead to severe outcomes, including death. In 2010, Fresno’s own, Ickey Woods, former running back for the Cincinnati Bengals lost his 16 year old son, Jovante, to a severe asthma attack. Ickey has gone on to establish the Jovante Woods foundation to promote asthma education ( ).

The problem is in the triggers that start asthma. Because mouth breathing is necessary during any increased activity, this type of breathing bypasses our natural defenses found through nasal breathing. The inhaled air is breathed directly into our lungs. All of the pollens and particulates normally filtered end up in our bronchial passageways. In addition, if we’re exercising in cold dry weather (as is found right here during our winters) the inhaled air is not first warmed and humidified as it would be if we breathed through our nose.

When controlled, asthma does not restrict exercise performance. In fact, being fit helps ward off asthma symptoms. So we should not be afraid to get out and get active even if we have asthma. But we do need to take precautions and have a plan.

First, as we’ve said many times before, it is crucial to have a pre-sports physical conducted by your own primary care physician. He/she can provide you with the necessary counseling, prescriptions, and advice on how to manage your asthma. This may include monitoring with peak flow devices, charting your progress, use of long term medications, rescue inhalers, and the proper use of those inhalers (using a spacer). Those specifics are beyond the scope of this article, so I must stress that your physician provide those instructions to you and your young athlete.

Second, establish a plan. Using your physicians advice, have your rescue inhaler at every practice and sporting event. Know what to look for, shortness of breath, coughing, decreased performance.

Third, ask your physician about pre-medicating with your inhaler. Generally, 10-15 minutes prior to exercise is helpful…BUT…you must get your physicians ok prior to doing this.

Fourth, keep your coach in the know. He/she must know that there might be limitations if your young athlete develops symptoms. Let your coach know what your asthma plan is.

Fifth, pay attention to the Air Quality Index. As often happens in our region, the AQI can go up into the unhealthy for sensitive groups, which means, limiting outside activity for young athletes, especially those with respiratory afflictions.

Having asthma myself, I can attest to the stress of not being able to breath. Try running up and down the pitch while breathing through a straw. This is what it’s like, and it can be severe.

But with proper preparation and having a plan, there’s no need to be afraid. So get that advice, take your meds, be mindful of the air, know your symptoms, and get out there! Play hard, play safe!

FlorezEditor’s Note: If you would like to connect with Carlos Flores to suggest topics or receive personal feedback, he can reach him at: