According to a new study by John Dickinson, head of the respiratory clinic at Kent University’s School of Sport and Exercise Science, athletes have higher asthma rates than average citizens. For example, 70% of the swimmers on the British Swimming Squad have asthma. So do about 50% of cross country skiers, and about 33% of cyclists. The national average asthma rate is significantly lower, a mere 8 to 10%.
This may sound like great news for athletic asthmatic kids, but the study’s results are misleading. Some of the athletes tested do have traditional asthma, but most have “exercise induced asthma” (EIA). EIA occurs when athletes over exert themselves and breathe quickly and heavily. This causes their airways to contract, leading to asthma like symptoms.
“It depends which respiratory consultant you talk to on whether you put these athletes on a spectrum of asthma, or whether you think that’s purely down to them exercising really hard in a certain environment, and if you take them out of that environment they’re fine,” said Dickinson. “It’s a grey zone. But my argument is it’s a form of asthma.”
Chlorine can exacerbate EIA, explaining why the rate is so high amongst swimmers. Cold air can also exacerbate EIA, explaining the high rate amongst skiers and cyclists.
But even though most athletes don’t have traditional asthma, the good news for asthmatic kids is that doctors now recommend getting plenty of exercise even if you have asthma. The important thing is to regulate your asthma, and keep an inhaler ready.