Exercise Induced Asthma More Likely in Some Sports

Exercise induced asthma is something many athlete deal with, but are certain sports more prone to inducing asthma? Could this knowledge be helpful for afflicted athletes?

Many Americans suffer from some form of asthma. If you are an athlete and suffer from asthma, it may be that you suffer from exercise-induced asthma. Exercise induced asthma is triggered by intense or prolonged exercise or exertion.

Normally when we breathe the air is first warmed and moistened by the nasal passages. Due to the fact people tend to breathe through their mouths when they exercise, the air they inhale is colder and drier. In exercise-induced asthma the muscle bands around the airways become sensitive to the changes in temperature and humidity and react by contracting. As a result, the airway is narrowed, and typical symptoms associated with asthma such as coughing, tightening of the chest, wheezing, shortness of breath occur.1 Different sports and environmental conditions can trigger exercise induced asthma. As such, a study was recently done to determine if there were differences in the incidence of exercise-induced asthma between athletes in various sports, which occur under different environmental conditions.2

The study consisted of three groups of 30 adolescents aged 14-18 years from Northern Greece. Each group was either a football, basketball, or water polo group. Each participant had a clinical examination as well as a cardiorespiratory assessment by a physician, as well as a 6 minute free running test at an intensity equal to 80-90% of their max heart rate.3

Forced expiratory volume in 1 second (FEV1) was also measured. Measuring FEV1 is done through spirometry testing, and helps determine lung function.4 The FEV1 rest value for each participant was recorded before and after the free running test. This measurement was used to make a comparison between the initial FEV1 and each FEV1 value measured after exercise.5

The results of the study showed that 22 of the 90 participants who performed the free running test responded with a ≥10% FEV1 decrease. Among those 22 athletes, 9 football, 8 basketball, and 5 water polo athletes experienced the ≥10% FEV1 decrease. After reevaluation of those same 22 athletes, 5 out of the 9 football athletes, 4 out of the 8 basketball athletes, and none of the 5 athletes of the water polo team showed a ≥10% FEV1 decrease. Overall, the percentage of athletes showing a >10% of FEV1 drop according to sport was 15% for football, about 13.5% for basketball, and 13.% for water polo. The 6-minute free running test at 80-90% of max heart rate did not show any significant differences between the three types of sport, although the water polo athletes showed a lower exercise-induced asthma occurrence6

It can be concluded that water polo has a lower incidence of exercise-induced asthma. A football or basketball game can bring on exercise-induced asthma in young athletes, but it still is not as severe as what the free running test can induce. Regardless of the sport, those who experience exercise-induced asthma must monitor it closely and be ready to control its symptoms.