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It is possible to meet the needs of a swimmer with asthma in an aquatic environment, using a large participant-to-instructor ratio. Before an individual with asthma starts a swimming program, or any other physical activity program, the individual should contact his/her physician. 

The individual should discuss these critical issues with the swimming program director:

  • Nature of the asthma
  • Prevention strategies
  • Caution signals or "warnings" of an impending asthma attack
  • The individual's asthma management program including:
    • inhalers
    • medications

Swimming, aquatic activity, and other aquatic therapy is an excellent activity choice for most individuals with asthma because the moist, warm air the individual will be breathing. Consequently, the conditions in an indoor pool  may reduce the symptomology of the asthma.

The following allergens, pollutants, or irritants could trigger an asthma attack:

  • Allergens:
    • pollen
    • mold
    • animal dander
    • dust
    • dust mites
    • certain foods
  • Pollutants:
    • tobacco smoke
    • smog
    • ozone
  • Irritants:
    • strong odors and sprays (perfume, paint & cleaners)

Following signs could indicate the onset of an asthmatic attack:

  • wheezing
  • shortness of breath
  • a runny nose

While older individuals with asthma should know how to self-regulate re: their activity level and medications, if necessary, the swimming program director may need to help younger children with asthma by prearranging a "sign" the children could use to indicate they need to stop and rest.

A thorough warm-up is critical for the individual with asthma to prepare the respiratory apparatus for exercise.  A complete warm-up will help prevent and alleviate chest tightness.

The swimming instructor should emphasize rhythmical breathing because it is absolutely critical for individuals with asthma. Breathing with pursed (narrowed) lips is particularly helpful for individuals with asthma. Caution should be used in any activity, like diving, which requires holding the breath.

The value of exercise, swimming in particular, can increase exercise tolerance, improve self-esteem, increase confidence and improve psychological and physical well-being.


Asthma & Allergy Foundation of America and the Allergy and Asthma Network/Mothers of Asthmatics, Inc. 1988. (Brochure)

This content was created by Michelle Rogers,
Undergraduate  Student in Adapted Physical Education
at Texas Woman's University,
as part of requirements for
"Aquatics for Special Populations", Huettig, Summer, 1999.

page last updated 1/3/2017 1:00 PM