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Children with asthma and exercise

4-minute read

Exercise can trigger symptoms for children who have asthma. This is known as exercise-induced asthma. It is usually managed easily and should be included in your child’s asthma action plan.

Sport is healthy for children with asthma

Having asthma is not a reason for children to avoid sport. It is important that children who have asthma continue to exercise to help them stay fit and healthy.

Asthma symptoms can be triggered by breathing in cold, dry air. But if your child’s asthma is properly controlled, they should be able to do as much exercise as they like.

If your child gets asthma symptoms when they exercise, check that if they are taking a preventer medicine they are taking it correctly every day. It is worth checking with your doctor to see whether they need to start or to use a different preventer; to have their dosage changed; and that they are using the medicine correctly.

What is exercise-induced asthma?

Some people experience asthma symptoms after vigorous exercise. This is called exercise-induced asthma or exercised-induced bronchoconstriction.

It occurs when the airways in the lung cool down and dry out after heavy breathing. This causes the small airways to become inflamed, swollen, and blocked by mucus, making it more difficult to breathe. It can also be triggered by exercising where there is pollution or pollen in the air, or by viruses.

Exercise-induced asthma can happen to anyone, whether they have asthma or not. About 1 in 4 school children experience exercise-induced asthma. If they have asthma, exercise can be one of their triggers and having symptoms after exercising might mean their asthma is not properly under control.

Symptoms and signs to look for

Symptoms of exercise-induced asthma often appear 5 to 10 minutes after your child has stopped exercising. After an attack, symptoms may not appear again for 2 or 3 hours, even if your child does more exercise.

Symptoms include:

  • coughing
  • wheezing
  • tightness in the chest
  • breathlessness
  • producing a lot of mucus.

Managing asthma while playing sport

Exercise-induced asthma can be prevented by taking the following steps:

  • Tell your child to take their reliever medication 15 minutes before warming up, if this is part of their asthma action plan, or if they or you are concerned they may need it.
  • Make sure they warm up before exercising.
  • Watch for asthma symptoms during exercise and give your child reliever medication if symptoms appear. They should return to exercise only when the symptoms have stopped. If symptoms reappear, give them more reliever and don't let them return to exercise.
  • Remember that asthma symptoms can occur up to 30 minutes after your child has stopped exercising. Have the reliever medication on hand.

Children can forget to take their medication. Make sure you remind them and tell any adults who are supervising that your child may need reliever medication while they are playing sport.

If your child does not respond to reliever medication after 4 minutes, they may be having a severe asthma attack:

  • Sit your child down comfortably and reassure them.
  • Give them 4 puffs of reliever medication, preferably through a spacer.
  • If there is still no improvement after 4 minutes, call an ambulance immediately.
  • Keep giving 4 puffs of reliever every 4 minutes until the ambulance arrives. Children should not have more reliever than this.

The need for an asthma action plan

Every child with asthma should have a written asthma action plan. This contains information on how to recognise asthma symptoms and what to do if they appear.

Your doctor will develop the asthma plan with you. Tell them if your child will be playing sport so they can include relevant information in the asthma action plan.

Tell your child’s coach or trainer about the child's asthma and give them a copy of the asthma action plan so they know what to do if your child develops symptoms.

Asthma action plan templates

Download an asthma action plan template from the National Asthma Council Australia.

An asthma action plan has been developed specifically for Indigenous peoples with asthma who live in remote areas of Australia.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: December 2017

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