Characterised by heavy breathing and wheezing, particularly during and after exercise, asthma can be a very debilitating condition for children. But despite the difficulties it presents, it’s actually fine for children with asthma to take part in sports.
It might be surprising to learn that many top sportspeople, including top Olympians, are asthmatic. These include the British marathon runner Paula Radcliffe, and Amy Van Dyken, the US swimmer. These people are a perfect example that asthma does not have to be a condition that prevents people from exercising or enjoying sports.
In fact, some medical experts suggest that exercise can actually improve the function of the breathing muscles in children, allowing them to relieve some of the symptoms of asthma. Dr Amos Lo, who is an otorhinolaryngology specialist at Matilda International Hospital suggests that activity can be of benefit to children by relaxing the muscles require for breathing.
The condition itself is incurable, although it can be controlled to some degree with medication and lifestyle choices. It is an allergic disease that affects the airways, which become inflamed and blocked by mucus when triggered by an allergen. The airways are further narrowed by the expansion of the muscles which contracts the breathing pipes. This causes the recognised symptoms of asthma as mentioned above.
Common triggers of asthma and asthma attacks can include pollen, grass, pet dander, pollutants, dust mites and temperature or atmosphere changes. Respiratory infections can also lead to asthma attacks. In some instances, people may experience a condition called ‘silent lung’, which occurs when the airways are so blocked that they cannot take in any oxygen.
Asthma can be a life threatening condition, and affects many people every day – in Honk Kong, 11% of children are asthmatic.. While there is no permanent cure, Lo says that treatments such as immunotherapy can help to combat the issue. This procedure involves giving children small amounts of an allergen in order for their bodies to become immune to them.
In some cases, exercise can trigger asthma attacks, but if the condition is managed correctly by taking medication as and when required and avoiding allergens, then children should be able to participate in any activity.
If an asthmatic child experiences the signs or airway insensitivity such as heavy breathing, coughing or wheezing, Lo advises that they stop the activity immediately and seek medical attention. Lo also suggests that exercise should be avoided in cold or dry weather, as these kinds of weather conditions can leave sufferers more susceptible to an asthma attack. It is also important to ensure that all sports flooring and surfaces are clean and free from dust. As a result, the most effective exercises for asthmatic children include cycling and swimming, as these are less likely to result in long exposure to cold or dry conditions.