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Play It Safe With Asthma This Winter

The winter sports season is fast approaching, and the Asthma and Respiratory Foundation New Zealand is reminding Kiwis who live with asthma to ensure they have plans in place to manage their symptoms through the cooler months.

"One in seven New Zealand children and one in eight adults live with asthma," says Foundation Chief Executive Letitia Harding. "Sports and physical activity are great for maintaining healthy lungs, as long as asthma is well managed."

"In winter, a combination of cold, dry air and exercise can trigger asthma symptoms," says Research and Education Manager Joanna Turner. "Many sports people with asthma find their symptoms worsen with the change in weather. It’s important to have an Asthma Action Plan in place so that you can continue to enjoy sports while keeping your symptoms under control."

Winter sports like netball, hockey, and rugby involve a lot of ongoing activity and are therefore more likely to induce asthma symptoms than shorter bursts of exercise. However, they can still be enjoyed with the right treatment plans in place. It is also important to warm up thoroughly before playing a game, and ‘breathe, don’t heave’ - slow deep breaths through your nose with the right breathing pattern will warm and moisten the air that enters the lungs.

"If you’re experiencing symptoms whenever you exercise in cold air, it might help to use your reliever inhaler shortly before exercising to prevent an attack," says respiratory physician and Asthma and Respiratory Foundation Scientific Advisory Board member Dr James Fingleton. "If your asthma is less predictable, just keep your reliever inhaler handy rather than using it beforehand. It’s really important to always have your inhaler available so you can use it as soon as you feel symptoms coming on. For most people, if you get asthma symptoms when you exercise it is a sign that your asthma is not well controlled, and you may need to use a regular preventer, or have your inhalers reviewed if you are already on one."

"Exercise-induced asthma, where people who do not otherwise experience asthma start to get symptoms during physical exertion, is surprisingly common in cooler conditions," says Letitia. "In fact, one study found that half of all cross-country skiers surveyed had exercise-induced asthma. While some professional athletes who live with asthma have fallen foul of the strict World Anti-Doping Agency rules around asthma medicines, luckily those of us playing community or school sports don’t need to worry about that, and can take our medication as needed."

The Asthma and Respiratory Foundation New Zealand supports New Zealanders’ respiratory health through research, education and advocacy. The resources we offer can be found at asthmafoundation.org.nz

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