Olympians With Asthma

Breathing problems are common in Olympic athletes

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

(RxWiki News) Breathing trouble can happen to healthy athletes. Damage to the airways from cold air or air pollution can cause asthma in athletes.

A recent study found that around 8 percent of Olympic athletes used inhalers. Winter athletes are more likely to have breathing problems.

"Go straight to the doctor if you have trouble breathing."

Kenneth D. Fitch, researcher at the University of Western Australia, wrote a study about asthma in Olympic athletes.

Fitch looked at data from athletes over the last five Olympic Games. An average of 8 percent of Olympians have asthma and/or airway hyper-responsiveness. (AHR)

Fitch discovered that asthma/AHR is the most common chronic condition in Olympic athletes.

Many of the athletes' symptoms developed later in life.

Fitch suggested that the training in cold or polluted air could be a cause for the breathing trouble in some of the cases.

Fitch said, “The quality of inhaled air could be harmful to the airways, but does not cause the same effect in all sports.”

There is no information available as to whether the athletes stopped having breathing trouble after they retired from athletics.

Interestingly, Fitch found that asthma/AHR athletes consistently outperformed their competitors. The reason could be that the asthma/AHR athletes trained longer and harder to overcome setbacks, speculated Fitch.

The Olympics have not banned the use of adrenoceptor agonist inhalers. They have not been found to enhance performance.

The study found that winter athletes were more likely to have breathing trouble. This could be from the winter Games having more endurance events and/or the effects of cold air on the airways.

This study was published in January in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. No financial information was given and no conflicts of interest were found.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
August 5, 2012
Last Updated:
April 25, 2013