Dealing with Asthma and Sports

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By Dr. Norman Edelman

No. You just have to control it and make sure you never neglect it. Never think that if you run harder, you will beat it. That's the kind of thing that leads to very serious, possibly fatal, asthma attacks.

Jerome Bettis provides a great example. Bettis had such a bad asthma attack on the field that he passed out; he was denying his asthma. But once he learned to deal with it, he did just fine.

If you have asthma or think you might have asthma—maybe you experience a little wheezing or you have a chronic cough or shortness of breath when you don't think you should—consult a physician. Get the right tests done to find out if you really are asthmatic. Then your physician can develop a medication regimen specific to athletes, so you can compete. Bettis works very closely with his doctors. They adjusted his medication and told him exactly what he needed to take before games so his condition was controlled.

Also, make sure you tell your coach about your situation. He or she needs to know exactly what's going on, what you're supposed to do and how to help in case you're in trouble.

My basic message about asthma is this: face the fact that you have asthma, deal with it properly, and then you can still be a highly competitive athlete. Don't ignore it or try to hide it. You can't tough it out without proper medication.

— Dr. Norman Edelman is the executive vice president and chief medical officer of the American Lung Association. For more info about asthma visit

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