5 Ways to Raise Awareness About Exercise-Induced Asthma

  • Exercise-induced asthma, known as EIA for short, is a common condition. In fact, the American Lung Association says that about 7 out of every 100 people (or 7%) in the US have exercise-induced asthma. That's about 20 million people. And EIA is especially common in people who have nasal allergies-up to 40% of them will experience asthma symptoms with exercise. You don't even have to have allergies yourself... If a family member has nasal allergies, you may be more likely to develop EIA.


    What Is EIA?

    Basically, exercise-induced asthma is exactly what it sounds like: having the symptoms of asthma, such as chest tightness, wheezing, and coughing, in response to exercising or being active. It can come in different degrees and may or may not interfere with you being active or working out.

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    Complicating the EIA can be other asthma triggers, such as a sensitivity to cold dry air, warm humid air, air pollution/exhaust fumes or pollen/mold spores in the air. Most people with EIA start to notice symptoms around 5 to 20 minutes after exercise begins.


    Putting This Issue Into Context

    A question was raised recently in our Ask a Question area about which sports were best for kids with EIA. The mom asking the question wrote that her child's phyical education teacher planned to give the child a zero in the class if she wasn't able to participate in a long-distance running activity.


    I'll tell you which sports are easiest for those with EIA to tolerate, but first, let's look at what parents can do to help their kids on a slightly different level. I'm talking about becoming an asthma advocate for your child.


    Tips for Advocating for Your Child With EIA

    This is the perfect time to be thinking about this because May is Asthma and Allergy Awareness Month in the U.S. The Asthma & Allergy Foundation of America asks the President to designate May each year, because this is the peak season for asthma and allergy sufferers. And the Global Initiative for Asthma (GINA) has also designated May 6th as World Asthma Day for 2009.


    So what better time to get out there and educate your child's caregivers, teachers and friends about his or her exercise-induced asthma?


    You can get an Asthma Awareness Planning Kit from the EPA. (It's a downloadable PDF file.)  They offer a number of ideas for increasing asthma awareness at schools. Parents of kids with EIA might want to spearhead any efforts to increase awareness about this particular type of asthma and how to manage it.


    Some Suggested Talking Points

    Before you go into school to meet with your child's school nurse, administrators and/or teachers, you'll want to plan out how to cover the most essential facts. Here are some suggested talking points:

    • Exercise-induced asthma is common. As explained above, lots of kids (and adults) have EIA. You can use statistics to back up this fact.
    • EIA is a real condition. It's not fair for gym teachers to treat a child's complaints of breathlessness as a ploy to get out of taking gym class. A child with EIA must be listened to and symptoms monitored carefully.
    • Exercise is beneficial for kids with EIA & can be done if planned carefully. Exercise is good for the health, even for kids who have EIA. If their asthma is under control to begin with (infrequent flares and symptoms),then being active should not be a problem, provided the right activities are used. Sports that require long periods of steady activity with few breaks are the hardest for a child with EIA to tolerate, especially in cold dry air outdoors. Examples are long-distance running,skiing, ice hockey, etc. Better choices are sports such as baseball, golf, swimming and sprinting. These sports tend to be more "stop and go" and are easier to tolerate.
    • Teachers, kids and school staff need to be aware of a child's Asthma Action Plan. This is a document that lays out what is "normal" for the child, danger signs and symptoms and how to respond to symptoms. School staff also need to listen to the child and to know when/how to seek emergency treatment.
    • Kids with EIA need to keep their rescue inhalers with them at all times. Gym clothes don't always provide pockets for carrying an inhaler, but a child with EIA needs to have the inhaler close by to use as needed, whether out on the playground, in the gym, on the track or elsewhere on school property.
    • Alternate activities need to be allowed for kids with EIA. Kids with EIA whose symptoms are not under control may need to sit out gym class at times, especially during allergy season. But many times, they may still be able to be active, but may need to do something different than the rest of the class. If the class is running the mile, then the EIA child may be able to walk that distance (or part of it anyway). If basketball intramurals are too taxing, perhaps the child can do jumping jacks or lunges on the sidelines.

    These are just a few of the ways you can change how your child's school staff think and act about exercise-induced asthma this year. So, are you ready to do your part to spread Allergy and Asthma Awareness this May?

Published On: May 01, 2009