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Back to School, Back to Sports
– Children with Asthma Need to Get Into the Game

Avoiding physical activity could mean asthma is out of control, experts warn

Toronto, ON – One in five children in Ontario has asthma and for many, that can mean watching from the sidelines while their friends participate in sports and other physical activities. But asthma experts say that children with well-managed asthma can participate in physical activities just like other kids.

In fact, parents should be concerned if asthma interferes with their child’s ability to play, says Dr. Dhenuka Radhakrishnan, a pediatric respirologist and associate scientist at the Children’s Hospital and Lawson Health Research Institute in London, Ontario.

“Parents should always watch for indications that their child’s asthma is not under control,” said Dr. Radhakrishnan. “One of the clear warning signs is when a child experiences difficulty exercising or playing sports.”

Carole Madeley, director of respiratory programs at the Ontario Lung Association, said that good asthma management is always important and particularly important at this time of year, as children return to school and hospitals prepare for the big increase in asthma attacks known as the September Spike.

“Every year, around the second and third week of September, hospital emergency departments see a sharp increase in the number of children arriving with asthma symptoms,” said Madeley.

Researchers suggest the spike occurs partly because many children do not manage their asthma properly during the summer holiday; some even stop using their asthma medicines. Returning to school, they are exposed to cold viruses. With their asthma not properly controlled, they are more likely to suffer an attack when they get a cold.

Exposure to outdoor allergens such as ragweed and mould and indoor allergens such as cat dander on other children’s clothing can also trigger a flare-up.

A few simple questions can determine whether asthma is well managed. Does the child:

  • Have to use a reliever inhaler (usually blue) more than three times a week?

  • Have asthma symptoms more than three times a week?

  • Wake up one or more nights a week because of asthma?

  • Miss any school days because of asthma?

  • Ever have difficulty exercising or playing sports because of asthma?

If the answer to any of these questions is ‘yes’, then the asthma is probably not under control and parents should consult a health-care provider to see what needs to be done.

Asthma Active is a free book of puzzles, games and information to teach children how to control their asthma and stay active. Order it by calling The Lung Association Lung Health Information Line at 1-888-344-LUNG (5864) or email It’s a great way to learn that having asthma doesn’t mean having to sit on the sidelines.

The book explains that when playing sports or exercising, children with asthma should warm up first and start slowly. Most children with well-controlled asthma should not need to use a reliever inhaler before exercising. If it is needed, however, it should be taken 10 to 15 minutes before the activity. If symptoms occur while playing, the child should stop, use a reliever inhaler and not start again until symptoms are gone.

To help parents and children learn more about managing asthma, the Ontario Lung Association offers the following advice:

  • If your child doesn’t already have a written “asthma action plan”, ask your healthcare provider for one so that you’ll both know what to do if asthma symptoms start. Make sure you and your child know how to use the action plan and follow it all year. Asthma doesn’t take a holiday.

  • Any symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, chest tightness or shortness of breath can mean asthma is not under control. The asthma action plan will help to get it back under control.

  • Take precautions to avoid an infection: wash hands regularly using the proper hand washing technique (a hand sanitizer can be used if there is no sink); sneeze and cough into a tissue, then throw it away and wash your hands (if there is no tissue, use a sleeve); and keep hands away from the face when in public.


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