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Asthma

By
Steve Kleeman, L.A.T.C.


Northeast Rehabilitation Health Network


Head Athletic Trainer Billerica High School

A
growing health problem today particularly among young people is asthma. The
problem of exercise induced asthma, which effects 12-15% of the population is a
growing concern for anyone involved with active young people.



Asthma
is an inflammation of the bronchial passages. More specifically, the mucosa that
lines the bronchial tubes becomes inflamed and thus the airways (bronchial
tubes) begin to narrow. The source of the irritation to the mucosa can come from
many forms. Some common triggers include allergens, environmental irritants,
respiratory diseases and exercise.



When
exercise is the source of the irritation, the condition is Exercise Induced
Asthma or EIA. Estimates state that 40-90% of all asthmatics suffer from EIA.
Exercise Induced Asthma is estimated to effect between 12-15% of the population.
Exercise can cause the irritation because the air is inhaled into the lungs so
quickly during exercise that there is not time for the air to be warmed and
humidified. The mucus that lines the bronchial passages is robbed of its warmth
and humidity in order to bring the inspired air to body temperature, as the
airways begin to re-warm they narrow and begin to spasm.



This
narrowing of the airways is responsible for the tight feeling in the chest that
asthma sufferers describe. Wheezing and coughing as well often follows this.



More
that 11% of the U.S. Olympic team members at the Olympic games were diagnosed
with EIA. Despite this fact, these athletes won 41 medals, 15 of which were
gold.



The
treatment of exercise-induced asthma should be divided into two categories. The
first is the use of medicines to prevent the onset of attacks and to treat an
attack after it has begun. The use of medicines in treating asthma falls under
the realm of a physician and is beyond the scope of this article.



The
second area is non-medicinal management. The athlete who suffers from EIA can
take several steps to control his/her asthma. First, he/she should make sure
that he/she is in good physical condition. Improving fitness levels can decrease
the need for medicine and decrease the number and severity of attacks. Secondly,
by choosing activities that take place in warm humid environments and avoid cold
dry climates many EIA sufferers can minimize symptoms. Activities such as
swimming typically allow athletes to compete unimpaired by EIA. A good example
of this was in the 1996 Olympic games when swimmers Tom Dolan and Amy VanDyken
both won medals and both suffer form asthma.



Skiing,
ice-skating and other outdoor winter activities generally are problematic to the
asthmatic athlete, although some athletes are able to enjoy cold air activities
by wearing a scarf or a ski mask to cover their mouth. This can be helpful in
that the scarf warms the air as it is inhaled. Another helpful management
strategy is choosing actives that are short in duration such as sprinting or the
field events in track and field. Some athletes are able to compete successfully
by choosing a certain position in sports, such as a hockey/soccer goalie, where
there is less continuous running.



While
asthma is a serious health concern and can, if not managed correctly have
serious health consequences, many asthma sufferers can and do enjoy active lives
including participating in competitive sports.