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ADVANCE Perspective: Respiratory Views

Healthy Children Can Exhibit Exercise-Induced Asthma Symptoms

Published June 3, 2010 11:15 AM by Vern Enge
Exercise-induced bronchoconstriction (EIB) has long been associated with adults engaged in physical activities ranging from participation in sports to routine workouts in a local gym.

EIB is generally caused when airway passages narrow with exercise, causing asthma-like symptoms to emerge within five to 20 minutes. Common symptoms include wheezing, a tight chest, cough, and shortness of breath. Occasionally it can cause chest pain.

Individuals most prone to EIB are those sensitive to low temperatures and dry air. These conditions are normally tempered when air is drawn in through the nose and subsequently warmed and humidified en route to the lungs. But during more strenuous activities, the air is drawn in through the mouth and into airway passages instead, triggering asthma symptoms when the cooler, drier air hits the lungs

Warm-ups and cool-downs may prevent or lessen EIB symptoms, according to breathing experts from the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology. In some cases, controller medications might also be used to stave off problems. Those prone to EIB might want to curtail some of their strenuous activities when temperatures are low or pollen and air pollution levels are high.

We all know quite a bit about EIB. It's sort of in the same category of what we may have experienced when we try to play weekend warrior, subjecting our bodies to extra stress when we engage in basketball, football, skiing, and marathon events that are remnants of our youth. If we don't collapse from a heart attack, we know we will be pulling out the liniments to sooth pulled muscles and overexerted joints.

We all pretty much assumed EIB is strictly an adult malady.

That might not necessarily be true. A recent study of 56 healthy youngsters at the University of California's Irvine and Miller Children's Hospital reports intense exercise can provoke wheezing and EIB-like symptoms in even healthy children.

"The results of this study indicate that short bouts of heavy exercise do cause a decrease in lung function testing in healthy children without a history of asthma or allergies," explained Alladin Abosaida, MD, the study leader

Researchers subjected the children in exercise regimens designed to evaluate exercise-induced asthma and general aerobic capacity.

They found that almost half the children displayed at least one abnormal pulmonary function result after the exercises. This was typically the result of bronchoconstriction.

Researchers said they were surprised at the findings. "We did not expect to see pulmonary function abnormalities after short periods of heavy exercise in such a large number of healthy children in our subject population," explained Abosaida.

Results of the study were reported at the recent annual meeting of the American Thoracic Society in New Orleans.

Alternative do exist inasmuch as some activities are better suited for individuals with EIB. Swimmers, for example, are exposed to warm, moist air.

And sports requiring short bursts of energy like baseball, football, and short-term track and field events are better for some individuals than are soccer, basketball or lacrosse. Cold weather activities like skiing and ice hockey are likely to make symptoms worse for sensitive people.

Even then, there are concerns like chlorine in pools and insecticides, fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides used to maintain playing fields can serve as triggers for asthma-like symptoms.

Importantly, don't assume wheezing, coughing, and shortness of breath in children mean the youngster has asthma.



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