Look at Kat go! She loves soccer and track and field events, like running and jumping. She even qualified for the National Junior Olympic Cross Country Championships. Unless you saw her using her inhaler, you would never guess that she has asthma.
Asthma is a lung problem that can make it hard to breathe. Breathing, as you know, is pretty important when you're running a race or charging down the soccer field. Your body needs the oxygen it gets from breathing to work properly. And your body needs even more oxygen when you're exercising.
So how does Kat do it? Let's find out:
How old were you when you first discovered you have asthma?
I was 8 years old and in the third grade.
What happened that led you and your family to think you might have asthma?
My mom says I had a bad cough that sounded like a bark and it just would not go away.
Did you have a lot of tests, and what were they like?
I had a skin prick test where they injected (under my skin) tiny amounts of the stuff that can cause allergies. I had that test because allergies can cause the symptoms of asthma or make asthma worse. They also put a "sleeve" on my finger to measure the amount of oxygen in my blood. And I had to blow as hard and as long as I could into a peak flow meter so they could figure out how well my lungs work.
How did you feel when you first heard you had asthma?
I did not exactly know what it meant so I did not care too much. But when I learned what it was and what it meant I was scared and thought I would not be able to play sports anymore. Luckily, I didn't have to stop.
What's the hardest part for you about having asthma?
Having to remember to take my medicines I would say is very hard, but also remembering what makes my asthma act up is pretty difficult. [Smoke and cold air are two things that make Kat's asthma worse.]
What does it feel like when you have an asthma flare-up? Some people describe it as "like breathing through a straw" or "drowning above water."
When I have breathing trouble, my throat loses the moist feeling. I feel like no air will go through or down my throat, like a boulder rolled over my throat blocking air. Like someone once said about having asthma, "I feel like a fish out of water."
What do you do to prevent an asthma flare-up?
I follow my doctor's advice about taking my medicine. [This includes long-term control medicine (also called controller or maintenance medicine) taken every day and quick-relief medicine (also called rescue or fast-acting medicine) she takes if she feels breathing trouble starting to happen.]
Taking my medicine has prevented me from having a big asthma flare-up. Whenever I feel breathing trouble about to start, I take a puff on my inhaler. I do this even in the middle of a soccer game, which I really don't like but know I need to do!
Before every sporting event I take two puffs on my inhaler. And because cold air will make my asthma worse, I wear a ski mask over my face when I'm outside or competing. I wear the mask because it warms the air before I breathe it.
As an athlete, what is the most challenging thing about managing your asthma?
Knowing when to take my inhalers and remembering which one is for sports is challenging, but it is a lot easier now. Also, coming out of a soccer game to take my medicines is hard because I love to play the game.
You play two sports (track and soccer) where competing and success depend on how hard you push yourself. How do you do this and still manage your asthma?
I do not let sports take over my life, and if I can't breathe easily, I will take a break from the sport or go back to my doctor and see what is wrong. Also, my coaches are supportive and make sure I use my inhalers when I need to.
How do your teammates handle your asthma?
The people on my soccer team always ask me if I am OK.
Many kids don't have asthma. What do they need to know about it?
That asthma is not contagious.
What tips or encouragement would you give to other kids who have asthma and want to play sports?
Go for it, but make sure it is OK with your doctor. And if your asthma acts up, remember it is OK to take a break during practice, a game, or race.