It’s cold outside, which means it can be difficult to get anyone, let alone kids, up off the couch to exercise.
And if your child has asthma that can present concerns.
In the United States, asthma affects 1 in 11 children, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC). And a cold, dry winter can make these youngsters even more susceptible to the condition.
Asthma is a chronic inflammation of the airways — or bronchial tubes — inside the lungs.
What can be problematic for children with asthma is how exercise, or any kind of strenuous activity — games of tag or school soccer matches — can affect the disease.
With asthma a person’s airways are always inflamed to some degree, so exercise can lead to a more acute and serious condition known as exercise-induced asthma (EID) or exercise-induced bronchospasm (EIB).
Dr. Tod Olin, a pediatric pulmonary specialist at National Jewish Health, explains: “[As] you exercise, you breathe more, as you breathe more the air in the airways is moving back and forth and it evaporates some of the water that is naturally lining your airways. This process of drying leads to the muscle squeezing down and causing the airflow limitation.”
Indoor pools an option
So what, if anything, can a parent do to keep a child with asthma up and active?
Olin and others say swimming at an indoor pool can be a great physical activity for children with asthma.
Among other things, the presence of humidity is helpful for alleviating the dryness in the airways typically associated with cardiovascular exercise.
“If you can prevent the water loss, by being in a really humid environment, the chances of having a problem go down,” Olin told Healthline.
Tonya Winders, president and chief executive officer of the Allergy & Asthma Network, echoes that sentiment.
She told Healthline that humid environments such as steam rooms are commonly used to help people with bronchoconstriction to relax and open up the airways.
Swimming also holds additional benefits for kids with asthma, due to the nature of the exercise itself.
By holding their breath, children not only help to expand their lung capacity, but also gain a greater ability to control their breathing.
Though, as with any other exercise, some preventative measures should be taken to minimize the possibility of an asthma attack.
Both Winders and Olin suggest that children pretreat with a few puffs of their short-acting asthma medication before beginning their exercise.
Ultimately though, swimming is just another option for kids to get out and move their bodies. It certainly isn’t the only activity for children with asthma.
“Anything every other healthy child can do, a child with asthma should be able to do if their symptoms are well-controlled,” says Winders.
“We definitely don’t want to give the message, ‘Don’t do something because you have asthma,’ because something like 30 percent of Olympic athletes have asthma,” he said. “You can do anything you want with asthma, for the most part.”
What about the chlorine?
Chlorine doesn’t have a significant impact on asthma symptoms.
It is true that when chlorine comes in contact with human waste — be it sweat or urine — it can form chemicals known as chloramines.
It’s those chloramines, not the chlorine itself, responsible for causing irritation in the eyes and respiratory tract.
“[The] relative risk that we can attribute to [chlorine] in 2017 is really, really low,” said Olin. “So, the benefit of getting someone out and exercising, especially if they like to swim, outweighs the theoretic risk of the chlorine.”
However, Winders does caution that asthma and potential interactions with irritants such as chlorine must be treated on a case-by-case basis.
“It really depends on the person and their individual triggers as to what makes their asthma worse,” she said.