Asthma: the most common chronic disease in Olympic athletes


Asthma is the most common chronic disease in Olympic athletes.

In a review published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, scientists summarize causes and treatment of the disease in elite athletes.

Athletes who take part in summer and winter endurance sports are easy to get asthma.

These sports include ice hockey, cycling, swimming, rowing, speed and figure skating, long-distance running, and biathlon as well as triathlon.

The main factor related to the disease in athletes is daily training load. If the training requires heavily increased ventilation (i.e., inhalation and exhalation) in a long time, it is easy to cause damage to the respiratory system.

Environmental factors, such as cold air during winter sports, ultrafine particles in indoor ice rinks, and chlorine in indoor swimming pools, can also increase the ratio of asthma.

In addition, other chronic respiratory disorders and cardiac disorders may increase the risk of asthma.

Athletes often use inhaled β2-agonists salbutamol to cure asthma. However, this medicine was restricted in the 1972 Olympics, because the Olympic Committee feared that it could increase athletes’ performance.

In the 1996 and 2000 Olympics, athletes were allowed to use this medicine with objective diagnostic tests.  In 2012 Olympics, β2-agonists salbutamol could be used with a maximum allowed daily dose.

It is important to see that since 2000, athletes with asthma have won much more medals than athletes without the disease. It is possible that the harder an athlete trains, the better the performance, and the higher the asthma risk.

In the future, we need asthma treatment that can guarantee all athletes compete on an equal level.

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