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1 in 3 Varsity Athletes Has Exercise-Induced Asthma

Condition arises even in those with no asthma history, study finds

FRIDAY, Sept. 7 (HealthDay News) -- One out of three college athletes have what's known as exercise-induced asthma, even though they may have no prior history of the illness, a new study shows.

Previous research in Olympic athletes has also shown high rates of exercise-induced asthma.

"We targeted varsity athletes in this study, because many of the reported severe episodes of asthma provoked by exercise have occurred among competitive athletes under the age of 21," Dr. Jonathan Parsons, associate director of the Ohio State University Medical Center's Asthma Center, said in a prepared statement. "Now that we've demonstrated how common this problem can be, more research is needed to determine the best way to monitor and manage athletes at the highest risk of developing symptoms while participating in their sports."

Exercise-induced asthma typically occurs between 5 minutes and 20 minutes after intense physical exertion. Symptoms include wheezing, chest tightness, coughing, shortness of breath and chest pain, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology.

While 7 percent of Americans are known to suffer from asthma, many others, including people with allergies or a family history of allergies, may experience asthma after exercise. Approximately one in 10 people with no history of asthma can experience exercise-induced asthma.

Parsons' team tested 107 varsity athletes for exercise-induced asthma. Out of that group, 42 (39 percent) were positive. The majority of the athletes who tested positive had no prior history of asthma. The data also showed that gender and the breathing demands of the athlete's preferred sport did not affect the likelihood of testing positive.

The researchers tested for asthma using "eucapnic voluntary hyperpnea testing." This is a technique that mimics the expected changes in exercise-induced asthma by making a person hyperventilate and then measuring their lung function. According to the researchers, this is the first study to use this method in varsity athletes.

Writing in the September issue of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, the researchers called for the development of routine asthma diagnosis and management among athletes. According to the researchers, the symptoms of exercise-induced asthma varied widely in the group of athletes they studied, demonstrating the difficulty of diagnosing the condition.

"One important finding of this study is that a history of symptoms with exercise is not enough to make a correct diagnosis," said Parsons. "Diagnosis and treatment of exercise-induced asthma based solely upon subjective symptoms could increase the number of inaccurate diagnoses and expose people to unnecessary medications."

More information

To learn more about exercise-induced asthma, visit the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology.

-- Madeline Vann

SOURCE: Ohio University Medical Center, news release, Sept. 5, 2007

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