You’re sprinting toward the end zone when tight chest pain tackles you.

Or perhaps the wheezing overtakes you just as you've stolen the ball and are heading toward the basket.

Exercise-induced asthma can take the fun out of sports, so it is important to stay ahead of the game.

“About 20 million Americans suffer from asthma and many of them experience symptoms when they exercise,” Dr. Clifford Bassett, an assistant clinical professor of medicine at Long Island College Hospital, told FOXNews.com.

In addition, many non-asthmatics (up to 13 percent of the population) experience exercise-induced asthma.

Exercise-induced asthma sufferers experience symptoms within as little as five minutes after physical exertion or sometimes not until the exercise is finished, Bassett said.

Symptoms include:

— Wheezing

— Coughing

— Chest pain

— Chest tightness

— Shortness of breath

Bassett said patients prone to exercise-induced asthma are sensitive to cold, dry air, so outdoor winter sports like skiing or speed skating are usually not the best idea.

Swimming, on the other hand, is considered a good choice for asthmatics because an indoor pool has warm, moist air and is available year-round.

Also, the swimmer’s position may help mobilize mucus from the bottom of the lungs, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology’s Web site.

Asthmatics may want to consider sports that require less energy such as golfing, baseball, wrestling or gymnastics as opposed to sports like basketball, soccer, field hockey or long-distance running.

However, if monitored closely and treated properly, no sport should be off-limits to asthmatics.

In fact, there are many top athletes who, despite having asthma, have played great games. Jerome Bettis, formerly of the Pittsburgh Steelers, former NBA star Dennis Rodman and Olympic gold medalist Jackie Joyner-Kersee all have asthma, according to the American Lung Association.

Asthmatic athletes are able to play sports with the help of medications such as rescue inhalers and more recently, a once-a-day pill called Singulair, which has been approved by the FDA to treat exercise-induced asthma if taken two hours before exercising.

“The drug of choice is a short-acting bronchodilator (a rescue inhaler),” Bassett said. “It’s important to use that 20 to 30 minutes before you exercise and 90 percent of the time that is a very effective preventative treatment. Singulair can be helpful, too.”

Bassett said patients with exercise-induced asthma should also:

— Warm-up five to 10 minutes before exercising. Try stretching or going for a light jog

— Drink 8 ounces of water before, during and after exercising

— Do some cool-down exercises after the main exercise or sport

— See your health care provider on a regular basis to rule out any other underlying problems.