Chronic Conditions in Sports: How Student Athletes Deal With Asthma


Emil Liden

Ryan Cunningham uses a prescribed inhaler.

Leyden Streed, Deputy Editor, Sports and Wellness

Students with asthma face many obstacles in their daily lives. They may find themselves having trouble breathing, whether it be due to the weather or too much physical activity. But how much does asthma really hinder a student’s ability to participate in sports?

According to the American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology, 10% of the US population has Asthma. Asthma is a chronic condition that can cause inflammation in the airway or hyper-responsive airways. 1 out of 6 young athletes that participate in league sponsored athletic programs in Minnesota have been diagnosed with asthma at some point in their life. It’s common to have students with asthma in a variety of sports. 

Annagrace Bricker, ‘21, is in cross country and track, along with Kylie Melz, ‘20, who is also in hockey. They agree that having asthma does make sports more difficult in most situations. They often have trouble breathing and have fainted multiple times during races and workouts.

“In running, I deal a lot with the humidity and just not being able to get enough air in my lungs, so I feel like I’m going to pass out,’’ said Melz. “In hockey, the air is so cold it’s almost as if I can’t even breathe it.”

Many times, asthma can go unnoticed for many years. Both Bricker and Melz did not find out they had asthma until their sophomore year. After experiencing severe breathing problems, they saw a doctor and were diagnosed with asthma.

“Sometimes kids will come in saying they have tightness is their chest, difficulty breathing, and they have no idea they even have asthma,” said Minnetonka’s athletic trainer Molly Yokiel. 

When students show symptoms of asthma, Yokiel pulls them out from their activity temporarily. She encourages them to rest and to see a doctor, where they are most commonly given an inhaler. An inhaler is a medical device used to pump medication into the body through the lungs. Students are encouraged to always have their inhaler with them, especially if they have severe asthma. In certain sports, some coaches even suggest wearing a fanny pack with the inhaler in it. It is important their inhaler is always current, never expired. 

“Take your inhaler at least 30 minutes before. If you take it during the workout, it’s not going to help you.”, advised Melz. 

If she does not have her inhaler handy, Melz does breathing exercises to slow her breathing.

Some sports do have specific rules for inhalers while competing. In track, Melz says they recently made a rule where if athletes bring a note from the doctor, they can hold their inhaler with them while they compete. It’s important to check what rules there are regarding inhalers in specific sports.

The bottom line is, although asthma can be difficult to deal with during workouts and daily life, it does not stop athletes from excelling in what they love. With proper treatment and precautions, student athletes with asthma can participate in whatever sport they’d like.