Back when I was in school, a kid with asthma would have been told “no siree” to playing sports or even running around much. We have learned a lot since then. In fact, asthma affects more than 20 percent of elite athletes and one in every six Olympic athletes, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology.
My twins (a son and daughter) went to high school with Tim Hornsby who is competing in London for sprint kayak this weekend. He visited our hospitals as a child and teen for your “typical” injuries and illnesses—ED visits, physical therapy for a sprained ankle, a tonsillectomy…and asthma.
When Tim received care for his asthma in his early childhood, it was not extreme and very controllable. I have all the confidence in the world that he is going to finish strong—we will be cheering with gusto here! (His grandma and aunt, who work at our hospitals, are travelling overseas to watch the competition.)
Respiratory issues are the primary reason for admission to our hospitals. This is not surprising given that Georgia’s rate of asthma cases in children is one of the highest in the nation. Although you can’t always outgrow asthma, good management (medication, etc.) of it–and knowing the triggers–can help keep it in check.
Potential Triggers for Respiratory Issues in Athletes:
- Long-term strenuous activities. Long distance running and similar activities are most likely to induce asthma, while activities such as swimming are the least likely.
- Pollution. In heavily populated cities like London (and Atlanta), pollution may add breathing concerns for competitors who have asthma or respiratory issues. In addition, smog levels can be especially high on hot summer days.
- Strong emotions such as excitement or anger. These reactions are less of a cause and more of an effect. (it is important to try and stay calm during an attack too)
- Breathing through the mouth. Taking air in through the mouth, versus nose, can allow irritants (such as pollution) deeper into the lungs, inducing an attack.
- Not warming up and cooling down. This is important to help regulate breathing as your body gets ready for exertion and steadies itself afterward.
Let me be clear that exercise is good for your health and lungs—without a doubt, sufficient oxygen is a key ingredient to an athlete’s success. (Elite competitors can inhale 10 to 20 times more oxygen than sedentary people!) Another key to success for an athlete with asthma or respiratory issues? Attend regular doctor checkups for the condition and have a written Asthma Action Plan to help manage the condition.