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Asthma Center

Asthma and Sports Special Needs Factsheet

What Teachers and Coaches Should Know

Asthma is a lung condition that causes problems with breathing. Many kids and teens with asthma have symptoms when they participate in sports or exercise.

When a person has asthma, two things happen inside the lungs:

  1. constriction: the tightening of the muscles surrounding the airways
  2. inflammation: the swelling and irritation of the airways


Constriction and inflammation make the airways narrower, which may result in flare-ups or symptoms such as:

  • wheezing
  • coughing
  • chest tightness
  • shortness of breath

Even though exercise may trigger asthma symptoms, students with asthma benefit from being active and playing sports. Still, some sports may be better choices for people with asthma. Sports like baseball, golf, and shorter track and field events are less likely to trigger flare-ups. Endurance sports, like long-distance running and cycling, and those that require high-energy output without a lot of rest time, like soccer and basketball, may be more challenging for students with asthma. This is especially true for cold-weather sports, like cross-country skiing or ice hockey.

Students with asthma who exercise and play sports may:

  • have flare-ups that cause coughing, wheezing, and difficulty breathing
  • take daily control medicines for asthma and require a rescue inhaler during flare-ups
  • use an inhaler before or during exercise
  • need to take a break during exercise, practice, or game due to symptoms
  • need to skip exercise, gym class, practice, or a game if a flare-up occurs

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.

Ways to help students avoid flare-ups include:

  • reminding them to carry and use their bronchodilator (rescue) inhalers before activity, if they’re part of the students’ asthma action plans
  • allowing for extended warm-ups and cool-downs during practices and games
  • watching out for flare-up symptoms and knowing when students should take breaks

Make sure your students with asthma have action plans to help prevent and manage flare-ups. You should know your students’ asthma triggers and allow them to use their medicines when needed. If a student’s symptoms get worse after taking medicine, call the school nurse or 911.

Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: April 2014