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Asthma and Sports Factsheet (for Schools)

Medically reviewed by: Elana Pearl Ben-Joseph, MD

What Teachers and Coaches Should Know

Asthma is a lung disease that makes it hard to breathe. When someone has asthma, their airways are always a little inflamed (irritated and swollen), even when they have no symptoms. Sometimes their airways get even more inflamed and may fill with mucus. Muscles around the airways may tighten, causing narrowing.

When asthma symptoms happen (called asthma flare-ups), students may need to make urgent visits to doctors' offices or the emergency room. During a flare-up, someone might have:

  • wheezing
  • coughing
  • tightness of the chest
  • trouble breathing
  • fatigue (being very tired or sleepy)

Students with asthma might develop symptoms when they exercise or play sports. They also might need to:

  • take daily asthma medicine even if they have no symptoms
  • take more medicine when they have a flare-up
  • take medicine before or during exercise
  • take breaks during an activity if symptoms happen
  • modify their exercise, practice, or games due to symptoms
  • skip exercise, gym class, practice, or a game if a flare-up happens

Even though exercise may trigger asthma symptoms, students with asthma benefit from being active and playing sports. Some sports might be a bit harder for someone with asthma, like those that demand a lot of energy without rest breaks, or cold-weather sports. But that doesn't mean that students can't play these sports if they really like them. In fact, athletes with asthma have found that with the right training and medicine, they can do any sport they choose.

What Teachers and Coaches Can Do

Teachers and coaches should make sure that asthma is under control before students exercise or participate in sports. In other words, they shouldn't be having lots of flare-ups.

To help students avoid flare-ups, you can:

  • remind them to carry and use their inhalers before activity, if their doctor recommends it
  • allow for extended warm-ups and cool-downs during practices and games
  • watch out for flare-up symptoms and knowing when students should take breaks

Most students with asthma have written instructions from their doctor (called an asthma action plan). The plan tells details how to prevent and manage flare-ups. You should know your students' asthma triggers and let them use their medicine when needed. They should be able to quickly and easily get the medicine they use for quick relief of symptoms, whether they're in school or at a school event.

You should know how to recognize and handle an asthma emergency (you may be the only adult around when a flare-up happens, or the student may not have an asthma action plan). If a student's symptoms get worse after they take medicine, call the school nurse or 911.

Medically reviewed by: Elana Pearl Ben-Joseph, MD
Date reviewed: February 2024