MILWAUKEE — This February, many athletes with exercise-induced asthma (EIA) will compete at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy. EIA affects as many as 20 percent of highly competitive athletes and one in every six Olympic athletes, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI).
EIA is caused by airways that are overly sensitive to sudden changes in temperature and humidity, especially in the winter months. During strenuous activity, people tend to breathe through their mouths, allowing cold, dry air to reach the lower airways without passing through the warming, humidifying effects of the nose.
People with EIA experience difficulty breathing within five to 20 minutes after exercising. Symptoms include wheezing, chest tightness, coughing, chest pain and prolonged or unexpected shortness of breath.
“People who have EIA should not stop exercising,” said Timothy J. Craig, DO, FAAAAI and chair of the AAAAI’s Sports Medicine committee. “Exercise is good for all people, including those with asthma. Certain activities are better for people suffering from EIA, although the type and duration of activities varies with each individual.”
Sports that require short bursts of energy, such as baseball, football, wrestling, golfing, gymnastics, short-term track and field events, swimming or surfing are less likely to trigger EIA. Wearing a scarf of surgical mask in cold weather can also decrease symptoms by warming the inhaled air.
Athletes of all levels need to remember to take proper precautions if they have EIA. All people with EIA should be able to exercise to their full ability with appropriate diagnosis and treatment. Many asthmatics have found that with proper medical treatment, they are able to reduce the symptoms of EIA.
Many non-asthmatic patients — up to 13 percent of the population and up to 40 percent of patients with allergic rhinitis and often people who have a family history of allergy — are affected by asthma associated with exercise. For most patients, a short-acting beta2-agonist inhaled five to 30 minutes before exercise can ease attacks. To treat underlying asthma, a long-term controller medication like an inhaled steroid or a type of medication called a leukotriene modifier can be used. Medications used to treat asthma are often used to treat EIA.
For more information, visit the AAAAI Web site at www.aaaai.org/.