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My Child Struggles to Breathe When Playing Sports: Can You Help?

My Child Struggles to Breathe When Playing Sports: Can You Help?

If your child regularly wheezes, coughs, or struggles when they’re exercising, it’s probably not because they’re out of shape. In many cases, it’s a sign of exercise-induced asthma, even if your child has no prior history of asthma or allergies. 

Symptoms like wheezing, chest tightness, coughing, and breathlessness occur in 40% to 90% of people with asthma and in up to 20% of people without diagnosed asthma. The good news is that exercise-induced asthma is quite treatable by a pediatrician like Dr. Margaret Lubega here at First Pediatric Care Center in Gastonia, North Carolina.

Here’s what you should know about exercise-induced asthma and how you can help your child get it under control so they can enjoy all the benefits of physical activity and sports. 

Symptoms of exercise-induced asthma

Exercise-induced asthma, also called exercise-induced bronchoconstriction, shows up as trouble breathing during physical activity, especially in children. Your child may complain of getting tired or winded easily during sports practice or playground play. 

Other signs include:

Usually, the symptoms show up 5-10 minutes after your child starts to exercise and peak 5-10 minutes after stopping the activity. 

If your child is just out of shape, they’ll recover relatively quickly from their breathlessness. 

Exercise-induced asthma means symptoms last and are hard to overcome. For example, your child may complain of shortness of breath for an hour or longer after stopping activity.

Sports that are more likely to trigger exercise-induced asthma include those that take place in colder weather, like skiing and ice hockey. Sports that require longer bouts of cardiovascular exertion, like long-distance running and soccer, are also more likely to cause symptoms. 

Why did my child develop exercise-induced asthma

Exercise-induced asthma most often shows up after inhaling cold, dry air. Children also tend to breathe through their mouth; their sips of air are quick and shallow. The air skips the warming effects of the nose and enters the lungs while still cold. 

The lungs’ airways narrow in response to the cold air, blocking the flow of air and making it harder to breathe. 

You may notice that your child complains more about trouble breathing during exercise when pollen counts or pollution levels are high in addition to when the air is cold and dry. Exercise-induced asthma may also show up when they’re recovering from a cold or respiratory illness, like COVID-19. 

Being inactive can make exercise-induced asthma worse, so it’s important that your child stays active even if they have symptoms. 

How we can help

Dr. Lubega offers recommendations to help your child avoid exercise-induced asthma symptoms. These may include:

She may also provide your child with an inhaler that contains corticosteroids, which will reduce inflammation and let air flow more freely. Other drug treatments include short-acting beta-agonists (SABA), leukotriene receptor antagonists (LTRA), and mast cell stabilizing agents (MCSA). These drugs have few side effects but effectively control wheezing and breathing difficulty during exertion.

Reach out to us at First Pediatric Care Center if your child is struggling with breathing and chest pain during exercise. Physical activity is important to their long-term health, so we can offer treatments to help them stay active and in the game. Call us today or use this website to schedule an appointment.

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