Staying Safe on the Playing Field
by James Ginda, MA, RRT, AE-C, CHES
Congratulations on being an athlete with asthma! You refuse to be defined by a disease that too often kept students on the sidelines in the past, and I admire that kind of determination.
Learning about asthma and partnering with your health care providers can help you control your asthma and get out on the playing field to compete. The same mindset that helps you excel in sports will help you excel with asthma.
Understanding the problem
Some people are afraid of their asthma and let it scare them into being inactive or not playing. That's unfortunate, because physical activity is important to general health, and this is no different for people with asthma.
As you begin training for your sport, sometimes it is hard to tell if asthma is making it hard to breathe or whether it's just deconditioning from the off season. If you notice that your wind doesn't seem to improve the way you expected as you get into game shape, make an appointment with your doctor to get it checked out. It is very easy for a health care professional to measure your airflow as part of a physical exam if you continue to have symptoms during exercise.
You might also be suffering from a form of asthma known as exercise-induced bronchospasm, and pre-treatment before exertion with a prescribed medicine may be helpful in this type of asthma.
Asthma has a strong allergic component for many people, as well. Your airways react to stimuli differently—indeed, asthma can be thought of as sort of an overreaction where the airways narrow and cause symptoms. Different seasons feature a different pollen profile. The smell of freshly mown grass on the playing fields in the cool air of early autumn may bring on symptoms for an athlete with asthma.
Understanding your unique triggers can be helpful, but there are times when avoidance may be difficult for an asthmatic athlete. This may result in a loss of asthma control that may be otherwise adequate at different times of the year and necessitate a review of your medications.
Taking care of business
Understanding your triggers can be simple or take a little bit of help from health care professionals. With asthma it is necessary to partner with a trusted health care provider, since uncontrolled asthma or sudden attacks of breathlessness have serious implications.
If you are looking to participate in a sport and have asthma, it is particularly important that you have the proper medication available. Asthma medications generally fall into two categories—controllers and relievers. Knowing which medication is your fast-acting reliever can help you if you have an onset of symptoms while playing.
It is also important to replenish your water loss during strenuous activity. Water will help keep the mucus in your airways from getting too thick and will help you clear it with coughing. This will also help your nose do a good job of conditioning the air you breathe. If water is not available, bring a bottle or two along to keep at courtside or on the sidelines.
Students are likely to need a physical exam before playing sports and engaging in strenuous activity that requires medical clearance. This is a perfect time to discuss any concerns with your health care provider or enter into a relationship with one before the season begins.
Your health care provider can develop a plan that is right for you, and a respiratory therapist or asthma educator can help you understand that plan better, as well as help you understand your asthma in general.
Your time to shine
Back to school time brings exciting new opportunities, and some of these will exist in sports and physical education classes. Whether you are an asthmatic athlete or one who hopes to be, asthma need not prevent you from achieving your sports performance goals.
There are many examples of athletes with asthma, such as Jackie Joyner-Kersee, a six-time Olympic Gold Medalist in track and field. Stories like hers can inspire you to succeed in sports and in life, even if you have asthma. This may be your season to shine on the playing field.James E. Ginda, MA, RRT, AE-C, is a respiratory therapy supervisor and clinical instructor at Kent Hospital in Warwick, RI.