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Asthma and exercise

​​​​​​​​​​​​​Asthma is a chronic problem that affects the airways of the lungs. It is a constriction or narrowing of the airways from inflammation caused by some sort of trigger or allergen, such as pet hair or dander, dust mites, mold, strong odors, pollens, colds or infections, weather or exercise.​

Many student athletes today suffer from asthma. Asthma’s symptoms can include:

  • Wheezing
  • Coughing
  • Chest tightness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Painful breathing

Coughing and wheezing are asthma symptoms that many people experience when they exercise. If you have theses symptoms, you should see your health care provider. You may be diagnosed with “exercise-induced asthma.”

An asthma diagnosis does not mean you can no longer participate in sports. You can. Following a few steps, you can help reduce the risk of having an asthma attack while exercising.

Start slowly. Warm up by stretching and walking for at least 5-10 minutes before you exercise.

Pace yourself. Make sure you do not try to do too much during exercise.

Listen​ to your body. If you feel that you may be starting to have symptoms of an asthma attack, stop the activity you are doing. Be sure to tell an adult.

Take your asthma medications as directed. You should be taking any asthma medication as directed by your health care provider. Some people are allergic to certain ingredients in some medications. Never use another person’s asthma medication.

Cool down. Take time at the end of your workout to cool down your body by walking or stretching. This will give your body time to adjust to the decrease in activity.

If you have been prescribed an emergency or rescue inhaler by your doctor, use it as directed. If you do not have a prescribed inhaler or your symptoms are not improving after the use of your rescue inhaler, follow these steps:

1. Remain calm. Focus on proper breathing techniques. Inform an athletic trainer, coach, parent or other adult.

2. Sit down and relax. Slowly inhale and exhale using pursed lips (as if you are blowing out a candle), breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth. Continue to breathe this way until you feel the attack start to subside.

3. Call 911 - if you can no longer speak or are otherwise unable to breathe.

An asthma attack that is not under control during an athletic event can be dangerous. If you have asthma, you should make sure that you are following your doctor’s treatment plan and that you are taking your medications as instructed. If you believe you may have asthma and have not been treated, see your health care provider to be evaluated. Treatment for asthma is customized to you and your specific type of asthma.

Contact emergency services for any type of breathing emergency during a game or practice.

Share comments or questions on this information. E-mail sports.medicine@marshfieldclinic.org.