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Asthma and Sports

Asthma is a relatively common disease, affecting one in every 13 people in the United States, but it is often misunderstood and misdiagnosed. When it comes to asthma and sports, the frequency of the problem may be even higher, and unfortunately, the misunderstanding abounds as well. Let’s address some of the myths surrounding asthma and sports

Myth #1. I get shortness of breath, chest tightness, cough, and wheezing when I exercise. I must have asthma.
Though breathing issues with exercise may be symptoms of asthma, they are also symptoms of several other exercise-related conditions. Some are as simple as deconditioning or hyperventilation. Others may be more serious and debilitating, such as heart disease or vocal cord dysfunction. In any case, it is important to inform your physician, and in many cases, have specific evaluation with a specialist to confirm the right diagnosis and receive the right treatment.

#2. If I have asthma, I’ll never be a great athlete. In fact, I probably shouldn’t exercise or play sports at all.
Some of the world’s greatest athletes have had asthma. World class soccer player David Beckham, NFL running back Jerome Bettis and Olympic Gold Medalists Amy Van Dyken, Jackie Joyner-Kersee and Greg Louganis all have asthma. In fact, the frequency of asthma has been noted to be higher in elite athletes. One in every five Winter Olympics athletes and one in every six Summer Olympics athletes have a diagnosis of asthma.

With all of these great athletes, it’s obvious that exercise is not harmful in asthma. Truthfully, exercise is beneficial for a number of reasons. Over time, exercise increases lung function, helps maintain healthy weight and decreases stress, all of which are helpful in controlling asthma overall.

It is true that exercise is a common trigger for asthma, and it is often one of the first indications that asthma may not be well controlled. If your asthma is flaring with exercise or hampering your sports performance, your current treatment regimen should be reviewed by your physician and/or an asthma specialist.

#3. As long as I’m performing well in sports and with exercise, my asthma must be under control.
Unfortunately, symptoms aren’t always a good predictor of asthma control, particularly in high-achieving athletes. In fact, in some athletes, it takes a severe decrease in lung function before they realize they’re in trouble. It is important, even if you’re feeling well, to follow up regularly with an asthma specialist who can monitor not only your symptoms but also your lung function as well.

In summary, the diagnosis of asthma does not mean that you can’t enjoy sports and exercise, even at a high level. On the other hand, it is important to make sure that you have the right diagnosis, the right treatment and the right monitoring to ensure your best health and performance.


Information provided by Jonathan Buttram, MD, FACP, allergist and immunologist at UT Health North Campus Tyler.

To make an appointment with Dr. Buttram, call 903-877-8651.

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