Exertional dyspnea in childhood: Is there an iceberg beneath the apex?

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This essay expounds on fundamental, quantitative elements of the exercise ventilation in children, which was the subject of the Tom Rowland Lecture given at the NASPEM 2018 Conference. Our knowledge about how much ventilation rises during aerobic exercise is reasonably solid; our understanding of its governance is a work in progress, but our grasp of dyspnea and ventilatory limitation in children (if it occurs) remains embryonic. This manuscript summarizes ventilatory mechanics during dynamic exercise, then proceeds to outline our current understanding of mechanisms of dyspnea, particularly during exercise (exertional dyspnea). Most research in this field has been done in adults, and the vast majority of these studies in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. To what extent conclusions drawn from this literature apply to children and adolescents—both healthy and those with cardiopulmonary disease—will be discussed. The few, recent, pertinent, pediatric studies will be reviewed in an attempt to provide an empirical basis for proposing a hypothetical model to study exertional dyspnea in youth. Just as somatic growth will have consequences for ventilatory and exercise capacity, so too will neural developmental plasticity and experience affect perception of dyspnea. Our path to understand how these evolving inputs and influences summate during a child’s life will be Columbus’ India.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)442-449
Number of pages8
JournalPediatric exercise science
Issue number4
StatePublished - Nov 2018

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 Human Kinetics, Inc.


  • Dyspnea
  • Exercise physiology
  • Pediatrics
  • Ventilation


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