Surviving the Summer Sports Season
by James Ginda, MA, RRT, AE-C, CHES, FAARC
The days have gotten longer and the warmth of summer has arrived. It is time to get outside and make the most of our time in the sun. Summer sports can bring a new world of opportunities for fun and fitness. For those with breathing conditions like asthma, partnering with your health care provider can make time spent outdoors just as enjoyable. Surviving the summer sports season takes a little planning ahead of time, but breathing conditions should not leave you standing on the sidelines forced to be a spectator. Here are some tips to stay in the game.
Making a Plan
Whether on the playing fields, the courts, on the road, or in the water, we all need to plan for the conditions. Checking the weather is the first step, and those with lung diseases just need to start with a little more detailed forecast. Air quality reports are available and often reported along with the UV index for the day, which is a measure of the intensity of the ultraviolet rays from the sun. This gives us the safe time of exposure for the health of our skin, and we can increase that by applying sunscreen and reapplying as it wears off. Bring along a hat as well to help stay cool.
If you have lung problems like asthma or COPD, there may be medications to pack along with the sunscreen, and pre-treatment is just like putting on the sunscreen ahead of time. Which medications and how much depend on that important partnership with your health care provider, but they can certainly customize their advice for you to make the most of outdoor activities. Some have to be more careful on the days when the forecast includes poor air quality, but fortunately there are efforts to keep cleaning up the air we breathe, reducing pollutants that react with sunlight. Avoiding times of day when sunlight is most intense can help, and air conditioning when available can make life indoors more tolerable on the worst of those days.
It is easy to lose fluids from the body with sweating and when our rate of breathing is increased with exertion. Drinking lots of water can help the body stay hydrated. For some, water loss from moving a lot of air in and out of our lungs can trigger exercise-induced asthma. Sometimes it’s also called exercise-induced bronchospasm, or “EIB.” While breathing can limit exercise for all of us based on our level of physical fitness, this usually improves with conditioning. “EIB” however can limit exercise even in highly trained athletes. Fortunately, EIB shouldn’t be scary because it is just a type of asthma that typically responds well to treatment before exercise. Just like pre-treating the skin with sunscreen and reapplying as necessary, medication can be prescribed to pre-treat the lungs, and it can be reapplied over time as necessary. Sometimes the medications are quick-acting relievers, while other times they are medicines that prevent problems and help maintain control of your breathing condition. These medicines are not addictive and having them available before they are needed is just another part of planning for a summer of outdoor sports and fun. Like with sunburn, an ounce of prevention can make all the difference!
A stuffy nose, sneezing, and itchy, watery eyes can be clues that you may have an allergy, and we want to keep it from distracting you from your game. There are unique triggers for different individuals, and for you it may be certain pollen that brings out symptoms at a predictable time during the summer. There are over-the-counter antihistamines that can be helpful. Your health care provider or a pharmacist can help you pick out one that is affordable and will work well for you. Prescription allergy medications are available that are even more effective if needed.
Taking a shower to wash off pollen can help, as well.
Summer brings cookouts after the game, and cookouts can attract bees. Food and bee sting allergies can be more than just irritating distractions for some, and can actually be life threatening. They can cause a more severe allergic response called anaphylaxis. If you have these types of allergies, your physician can prescribe an anaphylaxis kit to carry with you that fits in a pocket. This contains a special pen for rapid administration of a fast-acting injectable medicine called epinephrine that can be life saving. These types of situations warrant a 911 call for prompt emergency medical care and follow-up.
Breathing problems do not always begin in the lungs, so it is also important to protect the head and neck from injuries. When taking the bicycle out for those summer rides be sure to wear a properly fitted and approved helmet. While cooling off in the water, always have a swim buddy and keep an eye on each other. Swim where there are lifeguards and watch your children. Be sure pools are secured to prevent unsupervised access. Take particular care to avoid neck injuries by not diving in shallow water. If you cannot see the bottom, you cannot be sure it is deep enough or free from hidden obstructions. If there is any doubt, choose to be safe first.
Summer is short-lived and there is much fun to be had with summer sports and competition. Stay hydrated while training and competing, and slow down and rest if the heat gets to you. Make the air quality report a part of looking at the weather forecast to avoid getting caught in the ozone or the rain. Partner with your health care provider if you have a chronic respiratory disease so you have a plan ahead of time. Along with your sunscreen, prepare for your day with your breathing medication, and reapply as prescribed. Summer sports should not leave you on the sidelines. With a little preparation you can be safe and stay in the game!
James Ginda is a Registered Respiratory Therapist and member of the American Association for Respiratory Care. He is also a Fellow of the AARC (FAARC).