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Can a child with asthma participate in competitive sports?

Posted Oct 01 2008 8:12pm

All asthmatics can cough and become short of breath when they exercise, more commonly when they run than when they swim. Asthma is triggered by breathing dry, cold air, and swimming usually does not cause asthma because of the moist air above the water. Many children cough, wheeze and become short of breath 5 to 12 minutes after they start to exercise. They usually have exercise-induced asthma and they should be encouraged to exercise. Most can compete in sports, provided that they know how to prevent attacks. Special drugs called beta agonists such as terbutaline, albuterol or salbutamol relieve wheezing, but they give athletes an unfair advantage by helping their muscles to recover faster from workouts so they can do more work.

The International Olympic Committee allows athletes to take these drugs by inhalation only if their physician writes to the Olympic Committee, certifying that they are asthmatics. If beta agonist inhalers do not prevent exercise-induced asthma, you can try a cortisone-type inhaler for several days before competition. Asthmatic athletes can also prevent asthma by warming up very hard 45 minutes before competition and bringing on an attack of asthma. That will often prevent them from getting a second attack when they compete. Research shows that exercise on both land and water helps to control the severity of asthmatic attacks, even in asthmatics who do not compete.

For information on late-onset asthma, see my report #G107

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