Some of Britain’s Olympic athletes were diagnosed with asthma just weeks before this summer’s games, say experts.
Some of Britain’s Olympic athletes were diagnosed with asthma just weeks before this summer’s games, say experts. Researchers from the English Institute of Sport said the athletes had a form of the condition triggered by exercise. The experts told the British Thoracic Society winter meeting they used a new, highly accurate, test to identify the athletes who were affected. The meeting also heard that childhood asthma rates have quadrupled since the 1970s.The study of a sample of Olympic athletes, tested before they travelled to compete in Athens, used a new ‘gold standard’ test to assess if the competitors were suffering from exercise-induced asthma. This causes people to experience severe coughing fits and produce large amounts of mucus when they finish exercising, affecting athletes’ performance. John Dickinson, who carried out the research, said: “If you don’t treat asthma, lung function will get worse, and the amount of oxygen you can get in and out of your lungs will be affected.” Forty-seven athletes were tested using Eucapnic Voluntary Hyperventilation (EVH). It involves measuring an athlete’s lung function and then asking the athlete to hyperventilate to simulate the changes in breathing during exercise. ‘Improved performances’After six minutes, the athlete’s lung function is measured again and compared with the result pre-EVH. It was used prior to this year’s Olympics because it was the first time the International Olympic Committee Medical Commission required athletes to provide evidence of their asthmatic condition, and therefore if they could use prescribed medication during the Games. Most of the athletes tested had already been diagnosed with asthma. But the new test showed six who had not previously been shown to have the condition did, meaning they could be given treatment. John Dickinson said it could mean crucial improvements to the athletes’ performance. “Ultimately this will provide a more accurate diagnosis that will help the athletes know when they do or don’t need to take asthma medication. “When their performance is measured in hundredths of seconds, it has the potential to give them the competitive edge that they strive for.” He added: “Exercise-induced asthma can affect anyone. It can be triggered when the weather is cold and crisp, or when people are running in a high-pollen environment.” Huge influence He said GPs could carry out a similar test. Professor Andrew Peacock of the British Thoracic Society said: “Despite having asthma, many of our top athletes such as Paula Radcliffe manage to perform at the highest levels. “Asthma affects more than 100m people worldwide including 5m in the UK, so new approaches to diagnosing and managing it can have a direct influence on the lives of a huge number of people.” Cases ‘rocketed’ The study of childhood asthma rates looked at a total of 2,700 12-year-olds in south Wales. It found the percentage diagnosed with asthma rose from 5.5% (of 815 children) in 1973 to 12% (of 965 children) in 1988 and 27.3% (of 1,148 children) in 2003. The study, carried out by a team at the University of Wales in Cardiff, contradicts other research which suggested numbers had plateaued in the 1990s. Dr Michael Barr, who led the study, said: “Just when we thought we may have turned a corner, our research shows that asthma prevalence has in fact rocketed in the last 30 years. “It is possible that asthma prevalence peaked in the 1990s, but this study confirms that we cannot be complacent. “With more than 1.4m children suffering from asthma in the UK, we all need to have a better understanding of the condition and measures to combat it.” (Source: BBC Health, Dec 2004)