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Athletes and Asthma

Posted 9/13/2017 by UHBlog

Although it can be tough to work out in Northeast Ohio if you have asthma, there are ways to mix asthma and athletics. We can help.

Athletes and Asthma

Northeast Ohio may not hold the distinction of being “the most challenging place to live with asthma,” but its standing among 100 of the largest U.S. metro areas ranks right up there. According to an Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) 2015 study, three cities in Northeast Ohio – Cleveland, Akron and Youngstown – ranked as numbers 20, 31 and 38, respectively.

There are a number of triggers that can cause asthma – a respiratory condition that causes shortness of breath, wheezing and coughing – to flare, including physical activity. In fact, exercise-induced asthma is one of the most common causes of asthma symptoms in teenagers and young adults, the AAFA says, and even older athletes suffer with it.

So what’s a student or recreational athlete to do?

According to pediatric sports medicine specialist Amanda Weiss Kelly, MD, it starts with a plan.

“It’s important for athletes to know what triggers their asthma flare-ups," Dr. Weis Kelly says. “When they know what their triggers are, they can then work with their doctor to manage them.”

For instance, activities that require a greater aerobic demand that are done outside – such as running, football, rugby, soccer and lacrosse – can set off an asthma attack for some athletes. Other people have trouble in cool weather when colder, drier air enters their lungs, narrows airway passages and restricts airflow. In Ohio, especially Cuyahoga County, some of the biggest triggers are:

  • Allergens (such as pollen, mold, animal dander and dust mites)
  • Occupational hazards
  • Tobacco smoke
  • Air pollution
  • Airway infections

Rather than foregoing exercise, Dr. Weiss Kelly offers these five prevention and management tips to help you deal with asthma:

  1. Set up and follow an asthma care plan. You want to work with your doctor on ways to keep your symptoms under control.
  2. Use your inhaler. Follow the recommended usage guidelines before you begin exercising, and make sure you're using it properly.
    "You should use a spacer with it," Dr. Weiss Kelly says. "That will improve your use and ensure you're getting the appropriate dosage.”
  3. Keep the inhaler on hand. "It doesn't do anyone any good if you have to walk 20 minutes to your locker to get your inhaler," she says.
  4. Use common sense. Adult recreational athletes who are prone to severe or life-threatening attacks shouldn't run alone.
  5. Warm up and cool down properly. Along with asthma medications, be sure to warm up and cool down after exercise, breathe through your nose instead of your mouth and take brief rests, if needed.

Amanda Weiss Kelly, MD, is a pediatric sports medicine specialist; the Division Chief, Pediatric Sports Medicine at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center; and the Division Chief, Pediatric Sports Medicine at University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital. You can request an appointment with Dr. Weiss Kelly or any other doctor online.

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