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Close up of a child using an inhaler

How is Exercise-Induced Asthma Treated in Young Athletes?

By Kellie Adams, ATC, VATL

Asthma affects 22 million people in the United States, 6 million of which are children. It occurs more commonly in males during adolescence and is more prevalent in females as adults.

Exercise-induced bronchoconstriction, more commonly referred to as exercise-induced asthma, is a respiratory condition that causes an inflamed airway during or after activity. The inflamed airway often causes coughing, wheezing and tightness in the chest.

The signs and symptoms to be aware of include coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness, fatigue and reduced athletic performance. Symptoms may continue for 30 to 90 minutes if not treated properly.

There are also triggers that increase the likelihood of an asthma attack. These include cold or dry air, high pollen counts, chlorine in swimming pools, respiratory infections/diseases and activities that involve deep breathing such as running or swimming.

If an athlete or parent suspects the athlete may have exercise-induced asthma, they should schedule an appointment with their physician. Symptoms are an important part of the diagnosis; however, a true diagnosis cannot be based only on the report of symptoms. A physician will run tests to include a spirometry test to evaluate the effectiveness of lung function. During this test, the doctor will perform a baseline lung function assessment. The doctor will then give medication to open the lungs and check the lung function again. Another option is for the athlete to perform a physical activity, such as running on a treadmill, and then test the lung function. This helps to rule out regular asthma as opposed to exercise-induced bronchoconstriction. A decrease of 10% or more in lung function will result in a diagnosis of exercise-induced asthma.

If an athlete is diagnosed with exercise-induced asthma, the physician will typically prescribe medication. The two common options are a pre-exercise medication or a long-term control medication. Sometimes the physician may require the use of both. These medications are commonly referred to as inhalers, although the medication may vary depending on the athlete’s lung function. Once prescribed medication, it is recommended that the patient have regular check ups as the medication may need adjusting depending on the time of the year and the patient’s physical activity levels.

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About CHKD Sports Medicine  CHKD's sports medicine program offers the most comprehensive care for your young athlete. From diagnosis and treatment to customized rehabilitation plans, we specialize in physical therapy and injury prevention programs for active children and teens. Our team is composed of pediatric orthopedic surgeons, sports medicine specialists, physician assistants, certified athletic trainers and pediatric sports medicine physical therapists.