Exercise Induced Asthma is a narrowing of the airways during strenuous aerobic activity that causes tightness in the chest, shortness of breath, wheezing, cough, fatigue, and poor performance. The use of the term “Asthma” in this circumstance is inaccurate, the preferred term is Exercise Induced Bronchoconstriction or EIB.
Leave it to us medical people to use million dollar words and acronyms! During EIB, the airway becomes irritated by cold, dry air which normally is warmed and humidified by breathing through the nose. But as any soccer player will tell you, fast breaks or covering an opponent doesn’t exactly lend itself to regular breathing.
We open our mouths to catch “big wind” thus we bypass our natural capacity to warm and humidify the air we breathe. 10% of all athletes will experience EIB, while 50% of those with allergies and 90% with known asthma will experience it. Sometimes, these symptoms can reach a dangerous level, so if a player is on the pitch and having a continued episode of worsening and severe difficulty in breathing, despite inhaler use, it is important to get medical help. Fortunately, most often these situations can be prevented or treated.
Having a pre-sports physical can address EIB before it happens. This is particularly important for athletes with known asthma. Consult your pediatrician/physician to develop a plan before the season. Also, consider the air outside before activity, cold dry air usually contributes to EIB.
There are two ways to address this, “Gradual warm” up at least 10 minutes before activity and wearing a covering, such as scarf or bandana over the nose and mouth will help the airway to warm and humidify. “Warming down” is equally important because abruptly stopping activity can also trigger EIB. Be aware of bad air alerts. Fortunately, this year our winter air has been clean and wonderful. Not so much in other, recent winters. On those red days, we might want to limit outside activity. Use medications as prescribed. Both short term and long term medications will help with symptoms. But it is crucially important to follow your pediatrician/physician instruction.
Remember, while EIB can affect many athletes, it truly shouldn’t limit our enthusiasm for participating in the greatest sport of all, futbol/soccer!
Play hard, play safe. By Carlos Flores RN FCN