THURSDAY, Aug. 2, 2012 (HealthDay News) -- Asthma and airway hyper-responsiveness are the most common chronic conditions among Olympic athletes, affecting about 8 percent of the competitors, according to a new study.
The Australian researcher suggested the conditions may be linked to the athletes' intense training, particularly those who participate in endurance sports or winter sports. The inhalation of cold air contributes to airway damage.
Airway hyper-responsiveness involves marked narrowing of the airways in response to some kind of outside trigger.
"Inhaling polluted or cold air is considered an important factor which might explain the cause in some sports, but not in all," explained study author Kenneth Fitch, of the University of Western Australia, in a university news release. "The quality of inhaled air could be harmful to the airways, but does not cause the same effect in all sports."
Fitch counted the number of athletes with asthma and airway hyper-responsiveness from the five Olympic games between 2002 and 2010. He identified the athletes by tracking the use of inhaled beta-2 agonists, an anti-asthma drug commonly used by top athletes.
In 2001, the International Olympic Committee recognized the increased use of the drug between 1996 and 2000, and issued a new rule requiring athletes to provide proof of their condition to safeguard the health of Olympic athletes, not as an anti-doping measure, according to the news release.
Fitch noted that athletes with asthma have routinely beaten their opponents. He added, however, there is no proof that treatments for the condition improved their performance. He suggested that training harder than other athletes could help explain why many athletes develop asthma or airway hyper-responsiveness as adults.
The study was published online in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.
The U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute provides more information on asthma.