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The Asthma Section

Kids with Asthma Can Play Sports

The depiction of the asthmatic as outcast is a genuine concern to young people. Ray Broadworth, an athletic 18-year-old from Woodstock, Ontario, plays lacrosse, hockey, football and badminton, and worked for years to bring his asthma under control. A year ago his doctor put him on Xolair, a medication given by injection for people with moderate to severe asthma triggered by allergens.

The drug has eliminated his need for his rescue inhaler, although he still carries it, just in case. Before he began the Xolair shots, he was on a daily corticosteroid, and often had to use his blue rescue puffer before and while playing lacrosse or hockey.

However, for fear of appearing less able to his coaches, he took a big risk: he resisted telling them he had asthma whenever possible. “If you’re an asthmatic, it’s a known that you can’t breathe as well – so I just kept it quiet,” he says. “Later in the year they saw me using my puffer, and they never thought much of it because I hadn’t shown weakness with it.”

The misconception that an asthmatic kid is ‘weak’ isn’t helped by the fact that, at times, young people are diagnosed with asthma when in reality they are simply out of shape. Kaplan says there is “some over-treatment of asthma” by family doctors, and notes a need for more lung function tests. “Sometimes young people who are short of breath are prescribed a puffer because it’s assumed that asthma is making them short of breath, when it could just be lack of fitness,” he says.

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But for children who do have asthma, whether mild, moderate or severe, it’s helpful if they’re playing sports in an environment where coaches and organizers understand their condition and are supportive. Twelve-year old Connor Lee of Newmarket, Ontario, found out that he had exercise-induced asthma after a season of feeling breathless playing hockey.

“In hockey you’re pretty much told to go no matter what,” says his mother, Tracey Lee. “He couldn’t breathe, and they think he’s a wimp.” Connor switched to speed skating and started taking a short-acting bronchodilator 15 minutes before exercising, and every four hours during skate meets.

The medicine and the new sport have made a world of difference in this boy’s life. Even though Connor had to drop out of a meet right before the provincial finals because the cold air in an Ottawa arena had aggravated his asthma, organizers made an exception and he was allowed to skate at the provincials. He placed tenth. “He’s found something where people are really supportive,” says Lee.

Connor’s younger sister Tia has also taken up speed skating, and placed eighth at the provincials. She has multiple food allergies and asthma, and her mother says being involved in a sport has worked miracles for the girl’s self-esteem. “She would be very clingy before,” says Lee. “The child who started in September [2007] to now – she’s a totally different child.”

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Allergic Living acknowledges the assistance of the OMDC Magazine Fund, an initative of the Ontario Media Development Cooperation.