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From the Teen Doc

Exercise Induced Asthma Does Not Prevent Sports Participation

Attacks may be result of seasonal allergies

Asthma is becoming more common, and as a result, more children and teens are discovering they have asthma when they start playing a sport, even if they haven't wheezed in the recent past.  Although a diagnosis of exercise induced asthma may sound scary, it has become a very manageable respiratory illness. As long as some key precautions are taken, asthma should not prevent your child from safe participation in sports.


Exercise induced asthma, like the name suggests, is asthma in which the condition is present only when the athlete is exercising.  Some athletes may breathe just fine in normal circumstances and not need any medication at all, but start experiencing asthma symptoms ten to twenty minutes after vigorous exercise begins, at which point they have trouble catching their breath and, by the end of the activity, are coughing, may be experiencing tightness in the chest, and may even feel light-headed or pass out.


Exercise-induced asthma is easily diagnosed in your child's doctor's office based on his medical history. Since the child may not be exhibiting symptoms at rest, asthma symptoms may be triggered when the athlete is asked to jog in place for several minutes.  More frequently than not an albuterol inhaler is prescribed and instructions given on inhaler use based on the history. The albuterol inhaler should be used twenty to thirty minutes before any vigorous activity.

Seasonal Allergies

A major contributor to asthma and asthma like symptoms are seasonal allergies. In seasons where the allergy count is high, someone who wheezed as a baby may become sensitive to the pollens or dust and exhibit the following symptoms or complaints:

  • runny nose and/or cough, especially at night.
  • congestion
  • headache
  • ear pain
  • neck pain or stiffness
  • nose bleeds, or
  • feeling light-headed on standing.
These are symptoms brought on by the body's defense mechanism to the allergens, or pollen and dust. They are commonly found with asthma and so should be considered an important part of asthma management.


Seasonal allergies are managed best with a non-sedating antihistamine and nasal steroid. The medication should be used throughout the season. Your child's symptoms will improve, but use of the medication should not be discontinued, because within a few days of stopping the symptoms will likely return, possibly triggering an asthma atttack.

Your child may also be prescribed an albuterol inhaler with a spacer. The spacer allows your child to get the most medicine per pump of the inhaler, so please remember to have your child bring the spacer with the albuterol inhaler to use twenty to thirty minutes before beginning any  vigorous activity, and as a rescue inhaler when there is sudden onset of symptoms

If your teen still has difficulty breathing despite these medications, he may be a great candidate for an inhaled steroid that should be used every day to prevent asthma symptoms.


Preventing asthma symptoms is important to a successful sports season and a long life. Despite all the fancy medications for asthma, more people seem to die today than before from poorly-controlled asthma symptoms because they are used to the feeling of having difficulty breathing and present to doctor's offices and emergency rooms in far worse shape than we physicians would like.

Periodic evaluations

Scheduling regular asthma checks are important because asthma may be controlled with different asthma medicine depending on the season of the year. Seasonal check-ins like Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter can help you anticipate changes that may affect your child's asthma (e.g. a flu shot in the early fall). This season-by-season approach will help your child have a better sports season by keeping them in the game, instead of on the sidelines taking their asthma medicine.

Keeping your child active is key to a life of reduced health problems like diabetes, heart disease and obesity. Don't let poor management of an easily manageable respiratory illness get in the way of good health and great opportunities to socialize with others because of a lack of information.

No one really outgrows their asthma, but with proper management they can avoid asthma attacks triggered by an allergen.

The key is to become educated about asthma and make sure you take your child to his or her pediatrician to check out any breathing problems your child is experiencing regardless of a lack of family history of asthma or their ability to overcome their breathing problems after they finish exercising.

Adekemi Oguntala, MD writes the blog TheTeenDoc. She is an adolescent medicine physician, author, speaker and educator, and mom from the San Francisco Bay area.

Created August 12, 2010 Updated April 2, 2015


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