Ask the Allergist - Exercise-Triggered Asthma?
Q: My son recently was selected for his junior high school basketball team. During his last game, I noticed that, after playing for about 6-7 minutes, he appeared tired and more winded than usual, especially after he got back to the bench. He continued to play, but moved slowly up and down the court. Later he told me that had been experiencing breathing difficulty and coughing during practice sessions. His coach recently told him that he was "not in good enough shape" and needs to run more to catch up to the other players. For many years, he has suffered with nasal allergies during the spring and fall but never before has he had difficulty breathing. I am very worried - what should I do?
A: Your son could have exercise-induced asthma - also called exercise-induced bronchospasm - in addition to his nasal allergies. This is a very common condition in which exercise can trigger constriction of the bronchial airways resulting in symptoms of shortness of breath, chest tightness, and cough during or after intense aerobic exercise (such as running). Asthma symptoms begin within minutes after starting an exercise activity that causes a rapid increase in heart rate. Individuals (like your son) who have nasal allergies may be at higher risk for exercise-induced asthma.
He should be evaluated as soon as possible by a board certified allergist. The allergist will assess your son’s breathing condition and determine the best treatment. A measurement of his lung capacity, with breathing tests before and after exercise, may be done. To prevent exercise-induced asthma symptoms, the allergist may advise your son to take a relief inhaler/bronchodilator (such as albuterol) 20-30 minutes before every practice and game. In nearly every case, symptoms can be managed so that your son should be able to enjoy playing basketball and other sports. With proper treatment prior to events, many elite athletes affected by this condition have been able to compete successfully!