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Children with Asthma Can Run Track If Symptoms Properly Managed

Running May Be Beneficial

With a plan for managing symptoms, kids who have asthma can fully participate in track & field. In fact, there is a growing body of anecdotal evidence that participation in activities like track, rather than being harmful, is actually beneficial.

According to Dr. Mark Scarupa of the Institute for Allergy and Asthma in Chevy Chase, Maryland, track, and other aerobic activities, improves cardio-pulmonary fitness which is extremely desirable for asthmatics. "Furthermore," he adds, "there is a direct link to obesity and worsening asthma." So track and other activities that help a child stay fit and maintain a healthy weight should be encouraged.

Here are the essentials for successfully managing asthma and track & field competitions.

  1. Get a doctor's consent: A child with asthma should absolutely, positively get a doctor's advice and consent before proceeding to train or compete in track and field. Dr. Scarupa recommends a pre-participation evaluation, including pulmonary function testing.
  2. A doctor will:
    • Determine whether the child is healthy enough to take part;
    • Explain how to monitor the child to ensure that she is tolerating the training and competitions well;
    • Help the parent to know when the child needs to take a break or adjust medication to manage symptoms;
    • Collaborate on an action plan to manage the asthma (i.e. when and how to administer medication in case of an emergency); and
    • Establish regular follow-up visits to make sure that the asthma continues to be under control.
  3. Start on your own program. "I frequently suggest that patients begin jogging or running on their own prior to enrolling in a sport so that they can get a sense of their asthma control and/or limitations," says Dr. Scarupa.
  4. Have a fast-acting inhaler available at all times with no exceptions. Keep it in the gym bag or with the track shoes that are always at the track with the athlete.
  5. Notify coaches about the athlete's asthma.
    • Dr. Scarupa recommends a written action plan that details what to do in the case of an acute asthma attack.
    • Make sure the coaches and trainers know both your child's symptoms and triggers. Coaches with no personal experience with asthma may not know that wheezing or shortness of breath are not the only asthma symptoms; coughing can also be a sign that asthma is not under control.
  6. Be prepared to make adjustments. "Ideally, well managed asthmatics should be indistinguishable from their peers on the playing field," says Dr. Scarupa. "But until optimal control is obtained, restrictions may exist." Whatever your child's asthma triggers are, e.g. cold weather or a cold, be prepared to hold her out or lighten the workout to avoid provoking the asthma.

Asthmatic track stars

For anyone with lingering doubts that asthma can be successfully managed with participation in track and field, I have three words: Jackie Joyner-Kersee.

Although an asthmatic, Jackie became a multiple Olympic gold medalist and one of the best athletes in the world. Her advice? "Asthma should be taken very seriously but a child with asthma should be able enjoy all sports and compete and have fun. I had to work with my doctors to make sure I was on the proper medication. But once I made sure my asthma was under control, my running became better."