Athletes With Asthma

Asthmatic athletes potentially at risk for improper diagnosis or medication

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) Asthma has the potential to be misdiagnosed. For competitive athletes, this error could potentially mean long-term damage to their health.

Did you know different types of asthma need to be treated differently? Journalist Sophie Arie collected data about athletes and the dangers of mistreating asthma and found some interesting results.

A 2011 study shows that asthmatic athletes have consistently outperformed their healthy counterparts at every Olympic Games since 2000.  

But what does this mean? These asthmatic athletes know how to control their condition while still training hard.

"Asthma can be controlled - speak with your doctor."

Based on the experiences of marathon runner Paula Radcliffe and other athletes, asthma is thought to be triggered by intense exertion over long periods of time. Radcliffe often publicly discusses her asthma experiences in order to encourage others to manage their asthma better.

Asthma is extremely common in elite athletes and has gradually been on the rise in every Olympic games since the 1970s. According to statistics, almost twenty-one percent of Team Great Britain had asthma in 2004 whereas only 8 percent of the British population had asthma at the time.

Inhaled asthma drugs (know as beta-2-agonists or IBAs) were once believed to enhance the performance of those athletes who used them. However, studies have since revealed that this theory is not true.

In 2001 some tests were introduced that suggested some athletes had actually been misdiagnosed while others actually had asthma without being diagnosed.

This finding has led to concerns over athletes using the incorrect medications and putting themselves at risk for health issues. There are two types of asthma that athletes typically suffer from: exercise-induced asthma and full-blown asthma.

These need to be treated differently from each other and athletes face issues if diagnosed incorrectly.

Now scientists agree that exercise will enhance lung function in most people who have asthma. They also think that it will improve their overall quality of life.

"The general message is that mild exercise should be recommended to asthmatics as part of their symptom management program," says Dr. Greg Whyte, former director of research for the British Olympic Association and professor of applied sport and exercise science at Liverpool John Moores University.

This article was featured on the BMJ Group's new Olympics portal, an online resource to keep doctors up to date with sports medicine content from across the BMJ Group.

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Review Date: 
July 12, 2012
Last Updated:
July 23, 2012