Asthma the Most Common Chronic Disease Among Olympic Athletes

Asthma strikes Olympic athletes more than any other chronic disease,  says a study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

Researchers picked out athletes with documented cases of asthma and airway hyperresponsiveness from among those who used inhaled beta-2 agonists, an asthma treatment. The athletes competed in five Olympic games, from 2002 to 2010.

AHR occurs when the lung’s airways narrow when exposed to a trigger or irritant.

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The prevalence of asthma and AHR was about 8 percent, making asthma and AHR the most chronic common medical condition among athletes at the games. The authors wrote that asthma and AHR are pervasive in endurance athletes who compete in both summer and winter games.

The fairly late onset of the disease in several older athletes implies that years of endurance or cardiovascular training may play a part.

So could the air they breathe. “Inhaling polluted or cold air is considered an important factor which might explain the cause in some sports, but not in all,” said study author Kenneth Fitch of the University of Western Australia in a news release.

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Olympic swimmers Kurt Grote and Amy Van Dyken have asthma, as does Olympic figure skater Kristi Yamaguchi.

The study notes that despite their condition, athletes who have asthma have done better than those who don’t suffer from it. But don’t chalk that up to the medications asthmatics take—studies have shown that the treatments provide no performance boost.

Does asthma keep you from being active, or have you found ways to manage it? Let us know in the comments.

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Jeannine Stein, a California native, wrote about health for the Los Angeles Times. In her pursuit of a healthy lifestyle she has taken countless fitness classes, hiked in Nepal, and has gotten in a boxing ring. Email Jeannine |

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