“Your child has asthma.” Four little words that have struck fear into the hearts of parents for decades. As a parent, your one wish for your child is to make his dreams a reality. Will asthma keep him from reaching his goals?
Ask Amy Van Dyken, Kristi Yamaguchi, or Laura Trott.
Amy Van Dyken was the first American female athlete to win four gold medals in a single Olympic games. Kristi Yamaguchi is an Olympic figure skater and two-time World Champion. Laura Trott is the reigning double European, World, and Olympic champion in track cycling.
All three women are diagnosed with asthma.
Asthma is the most common chronic disease among Olympic athletes. About 8% of Olympians have diagnosed asthma or airway hyper-responsiveness (AHR), according to a study by the University of Western Australia.
The study goes on to say that, despite their condition, athletes with asthma historically perform better in the Olympics than those who don’t suffer from it.
Your future Olympian may require a few extra precautions during training when asthma is a factor. But as long as you both keep an eye on the symptoms, your star athlete can go for the gold.
Here are a few recommended methods for athletes with asthma. Try these tips even if your child isn’t diagnosed with asthma – especially if he is interested in endurance sports. Many endurance sport athletes in the UWA study developed asthma after childhood. This suggests that their intense training may have contributed to their diagnosis.
Start with a long warm-up. Alex Hutchinson (author of “Which Comes First, Cardio or Weights?”) recommends a 20-30 minute warm-up of gentle jogging, cycling or swimming. This extended warm-up is meant to trigger a “refractory period” – when the airways become sensitized to help athletes get through their competition without suffering an asthma attack.
Consider a summer sport. Cold air is always dry. Therefore, inhaling cold air dehydrates the airways. Dehydration ultimately causes narrowing and stress on the airways, which is especially harmful for athletes with asthma or AHR. Additional stress can occur as the airways rapidly rewarm themselves post-exercise.
Control moisture indoors. While cold air can be an issue during the Winter Games, excessively moist air indoors can also create health risks. Humid environments encourage the growth of mold, a powerful allergen that can also damage building materials. Many indoor pool owners use a dehumidifier to control the humidity level and prevent mold growth. You can also take other precautions to create a healthy indoor pool environment.
Swimmers, choose a non-chlorinated pool. Chlorine damages the lungs and poses a variety of other health risks. Studies continue to show links between children diagnosed with asthma and their exposure to chlorine. To avoid these risks – especially during cold winter months when your swimmer must practice indoors – choose an alternative to chlorinated pools (ex: saline).
So encourage your future Olympian! That gold medal isn’t out of reach.
Does asthma keep you or your child from being active? Tell us how you manage it in the comments section below.