'My child can't play sports. He has asthma.'
Why asthma shouldn't be an excuse for keeping your child off the field.
“I just can’t let him play sports because his asthma is SOOOO bad.”
Fortunately, most of those cases are mild and require only rare treatments with albuterol inhalers. However, some of those cases can be severe and can result in significant issues for families.
The social complications of asthma are costly:
- Missed school for doctor visits, emergency room and hospital stays.
- Missed work for families.
- Decreased activity level resulting in other poor health outcomes.
There are times where these complications might be unavoidable. But these should be very, very rare cases.
I don’t believe that any general pediatrician should use physical activity restriction as a means to manage a child’s asthma.
Why? Most cases of asthma can be managed by the pediatrician and involve the following treatments:
Allergies - If the child has allergies, make sure that he or she is on adequate treatment using a step approach to include antihistamines up to nasal steroid sprays.
Viral infections -Train your children to wash their hands frequently especially during winter months. Get your child a flu shot every year.
Stop smoking - If you are smoking, you do not get to tell your child that they cannot participate in sports. It’s hard to quit smoking, but it’s harder to be a child who wants to do an activity but can’t because their parent’s smoking makes their asthma too severe.
Develop a Treatment Plan
Treatment plans for asthma are called “asthma action plans.” Children with have asthma need one.
Treatment for asthma generally starts with albuterol on an as needed basis. This might be the case in a child who has rare symptoms or who only wheezes once or twice a year when they get a bad cold.
Treatment for asthma should include some type of daily medication for control if either of the following is present:
- Symptoms more than twice a week or a limitation in activities due to asthma
- Symptoms at night more than twice a month (waking up coughing or with difficulty breathing).
Refer to a pulmonologist
If you and your general pediatrician cannot seem to get a handle on your child’s asthma, request a referral to a pulmonologist or allergist before telling your child that he or she cannot participate in physical activity.
Here are a few guidelines based on current asthma severity that might help when you are managing asthma and physical activity:
- Children with well-controlled asthma who are symptom free should not be restricted in any way. They don’t get to run less or skip out if they are feeling well.
- Children who are having mild symptoms (cough from an upper respiratory infection) may need to be modified but sometimes do not need to be completely sedentary. (They can walk around the gym if everyone else is running.)
- Children with moderate to severe symptoms should be receiving medical care by the school nurse or their pediatrician. Asthma can be serious, even deadly so don’t wait to call if you are concerned.
Children with asthma can and should participate in physical activity. I do not believe that they should be restricted based on the recommendation of a general pediatrician alone.
Everything should be done to allow them to play first: avoiding triggers, treating aggressively, even to seeing a pulmonologist.
For more information about what is being done in our area to help prevent and treat asthma, check out the report from The Center for Children’s Health’s Asthma Think Tank-Childhood Asthma: A Guide to Action.
Justin Smith, M.D., is a Cook Children's pediatrician in Lewisville. View more from The Doc Smitty at his Facebook page.He attended University of Texas, Southwestern Medical School and did his pediatric training at Baylor College of Medicine. He joins Cook Children's after practicing in his hometown of Abilene for four years. He has a particular interest in development, behavior and care for children struggling with obesity. In his spare time, he enjoys playing with his three young children, exercising, reading and writing about parenting and pediatric health issues..