Asthma can seem like an obstacle to physical activity, especially for those suffering from exercise-induced asthma. Parents of asthmatic children may fear the consequences of activity, especially in Miami’s summer heat. The fact is that exercise is vital for a healthy child to become a healthy adult and to avoid the plague of obesity.

According the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), obese adults are 66 percent more likely than adults of normal weight to have asthma. Obesity prevention for asthmatic sufferers starts with an early understanding by parents and children about asthma control and regular exercise.

Summer is here and it is humid in South Florida. You want your child to get outdoors with the confidence that they will be safe from a sudden, detrimental asthma attack. While asthmatic flare-ups may be inevitable, they should never hinder your child’s ability to remain active.

Because exercise is undeniably beneficial for both physical and emotional well-being, we asked Holtz Children’s Hospital pediatric pulmonologist Dr. Shatha Yousef to dispel possible myths about pediatric asthma, and advise how to keep your child moving.

Myth or Fact: My child has asthma and suffers from exercise-induced symptoms. He/She can’t engage in rigorous activity like other kids, especially in this hot, humid climate.

Our role as pulmonologists is to manage and educate children with asthma so they can have as normal a life as possible. While it is a fact that hot and humid air can precipitate airway constriction when a child hyperventilates – as they often do while engaging in exercise – there are ways they can still participate.

We tell our patients:

  • First and foremost, keep your asthma under control; take your medications and follow with your doctor.
  • Use your bronchodilator 15 minutes before your PE class or sports event. A majority of the time, this should keep you from having an attack.
  • If you are also allergic, avoid high-pollen exercise areas, if possible. Watch the environment.
  • If you have a cold, avoid exercise.Make sure you do warm-up exercises before any exertion, and breathe through your nose, not your mouth.
  • Are there any sports that are better for them to play than others?

For children with exercise-induced symptoms, it’s sometimes advised to participate in exercise that has short-term periods of exertion, for instance, in swimming, gymnastics and even volleyball where players run and stop. Whereas, sports like soccer and hockey require continuous running and for long distances. The shorter the duration of actual exercise, the better.

Myth or Fact: Medication is the only method for preventing my child’s exercise-induced asthma attacks?

This is a myth. Although medications are the key controller for asthma, alternative and complementary methods like yoga can help control breathing and reduce stress. Some studies have shown that it also helps to reduce the number of asthma attacks. Biofeedback can do the same if a person’s attacks are triggered by stress.

What advice do you have for any adult or child who feels their asthma is keeping them from physical activity?

We encourage everyone to develop a personal action plan. For example, what happens when they exercise? How do they feel? Do they have “early warning signs” of an asthma attack? We tell them when the symptoms start, “step up.” Step up the use of their inhaler; use more of it to control their symptoms. If that doesn’t work in the timeframe we teach them, they should seek medical advice right away. They use red/yellow/green coding in their action plan to know ahead of time what things to avoid and what things can be done with caution and awareness.

Shatha Yousef, M.D., is a pediatric pulmonologist with Jackson Health System and the University of Miami Department of Pediatrics. She sees children with asthma and other lung diseases in Jackson’s Holtz Children’s Hospital’s regular and intensive care units, and ambulatory clinics. She also works closely with UM’s Program for Pediatric Integrative Medicine, which provides exercise, nutritional, yoga and biofeedback services to children.