As long as they take the proper precautions before and during physical activity, kids with exercise-induced asthma don’t have to stick to the sidelines.
Most of the 7 million children in the United States who suffer from asthma experience symptoms during prolonged periods of exercise or physical exertion. That said, some children only experience asthma symptoms during or after exercise. In most cases, these children actually have a separate condition altogether: exercise-induced asthma (EIA).
Also known as exercise-induced bronchoconstriction, EIA occurs when the muscle bands around the throat’s airway are overly sensitive to changes in temperature and humidity. Usually, the air we inhale is warmed and moistened by the nasal passages before it reaches the airway, but because people are more likely to breathe through their mouths during exercise, the air they inhale during periods of physical exertion tends to be cooler and drier.
This cool, dry air can cause the airway to spasm and contract, resulting in symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath. While these symptoms can be scary, they don’t mean your child has to remain on the sidelines. By taking proper precautions, children with EIA can enjoy all sorts of sports and activities.
Recognizing Exercise-Induced Asthma
Symptoms of EIA vary from person to person, but they’re likely to include some combination of common asthma attack symptoms like wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness, coughing, and fatigue. These symptoms usually begin five to ten minutes after a person starts exercising and peak five to ten minutes after they stop, though they can take an hour or more to subside completely.
It can sometimes be difficult to tell if a child has EIA or is simply winded as a result of being out of shape. That said, it generally takes much longer for someone with EIA to recover, and they’re more likely to experience symptoms if it’s cold outside or if air quality is poor.
If you suspect your child has EIA, a pediatrician can conduct a straightforward test to reach a definitive diagnosis. They will likely ask your child to perform an activity that’s triggered their symptoms in the past, such as running for six to eight minutes, either on a treadmill or outside. They’ll then have your child take a breathing test, which will show whether they have EIA.
If your child does have EIA, their pediatrician will recommend an appropriate course of treatment. Doctors will frequently recommend pretreatment of EIA, that is, taking medicine prior to exercise. This medicine is often the same fast-acting medicine commonly taken to stop flare-ups that are already in progress, but by taking it prior to exercise, a child can sometimes prevent a flare-up altogether.
A doctor may also recommend a long-term control medicine, which is taken regularly to reduce airway inflammation over time. Additionally, your child’s pediatrician can help you craft an EIA action plan that lays out guidelines for which activities and weather conditions your child should avoid, what they should do prior to exercising, and what they should do if they suffer an EIA attack.
Living with Exercise-Induced Asthma
EIA is no reason to avoid sports and exercise altogether — in fact, being in good physical shape has been shown to decrease the frequency of asthma attacks. Talk to your pediatrician about what exercises, sports, and activities are a good fit for your child.
Typically, activities like golf, baseball, or short track and field events are ideal options for kids with EIA, though with the proper precautions, these kids may be able to participate in more cardio-intensive sports like soccer or cross country running.
If you suspect your child has exercise-induced asthma, consider making an appointment with Kids’ Health. Many kids and their parents find EIA scary and upsetting, but Kids’ Health is dedicated to caring for your child both physically and emotionally. With a combination of personal service and modern technology, we’ll help put your mind at ease and keep your child safe. Contact us today to schedule your first appointment.