Updated 26 October 2017

Here’s why swimming is good for asthmatic kids

Safe, healthy fun for kids with asthma may be as near as the neighbourhood pool as the high humidity in indoor swimming pools can protect them against attacks.

For some, an asthma attack feels as though an elephant is sitting on their chest, while for others breathing becomes so laboured that it’s like trying to suck peanut butter through a straw.

Dilemma for many families

Asthma is the most common chronic childhood disease, and entails struggling to breathe due to constricted airways.

Because of these adverse effects, children are often discouraged from taking part in sport, but new research now suggests that when it comes to cardio activities that are well-tolerated, swimming, specifically, is highly recommended, particularly in indoor swimming pools.

Staying active can be a challenge for the more than six million children with asthma in the United States, noted Dr Tod Olin, a paediatric pulmonologist at National Jewish Health. 

"It can be a dilemma for many families. All it takes is one asthma attack, and suddenly patients can become very tentative about overdoing it," he said in a hospital news release.

Symptoms of asthma in kids

According to a Health24 article, common symptoms of asthma among kids include:

  • Fatigue and lack of stamina causing the child to slow down or stop play 
  • Coughing usually at night or with activity. Coughing usually starts late at night or in the early hours of the morning. It can be dry or wet and is persistent. 
  • Complaints of chest pain 
  • Avoidance and a refusal to participate in active sports and games 
  • Asthma wheeze (whistle)

How is asthma treated?

Because asthma is two conditions rolled into one, inflammation and bronchoconstriction of the airways, the most effective treatment consists of a two-pronged approach, treating both factors simultaneously.

Asthmatic kids should exercise 

Children with asthma have often been told to limit exercise, Dr Olin noted. "More recently, we've changed our approach," he said. "We now encourage kids to exercise, especially as the obesity epidemic has become more and more problematic."

Starting with swimming and letting kids with asthma choose the sports they enjoy make it more likely they will stay active, he said.

"I generally recommend that they use their albuterol inhaler about 15 minutes before exercise, but if their asthma is well-controlled, there is no reason to limit any activity," Dr Olin said. "If their heart is taking them toward a certain sport, they should be encouraged to pursue that."

Just keep swimming

The high humidity in indoor swimming pools protects against asthma attacks by keeping airways open, Dr Olin said.

"We think that the way asthma attacks happen is that the airways dry out, and that sets off a cascade of reactions that ultimately squeezes down the airway," Dr Olin explained. "If we can prevent that initial airway-drying step by staying in a humid environment, we prevent the asthma attack all together."

Read More:

Low-income kids more likely to have asthma

What if you have an asthma attack and no inhaler?

Smoking bans help fight asthma in children


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Asthma Expert

Professor Keertan Dheda has received of several prestigious awards including the 2014 Oppenheimer Award, and has published over 160 peer-reviewed papers and holds 3 patents related to new TB diagnostic or infection control technologies. He serves on the editorial board of the journals PLoS One, the International Journal of Tuberculosis and Lung Disease, American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Medicine, Lancet Respiratory Diseases and Nature Scientific Reports, amongst others.Read his full biography at the University of Cape Town Lung Institute

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