Did you tune in for the Winter Olympic Games in Beijing this year? One thing that fascinates me about Olympians is how easy they make their sport look. You might have heard the idea that having a “normal” person compete alongside the Olympians might give us a better idea of the high level these athletes perform at. While Olympic athletes might seem superhuman compared to us “normal” people when it comes to their events, they are not infallible. They struggle with some of the same issues the rest of us do, including health issues like asthma. Here is how asthma can affect athletes—whether they are Olympians or not.
How does asthma affect athletes?
Asthma is a chronic condition that affects the airways in the lungs. During an asthma attack, the airways narrow and swell and may produce excess mucus. Symptoms of asthma include difficulty breathing, coughing, shortness of breath, and wheezing (or a whistling sound when you breathe). Because asthma can range from mild to severe, it may be a minor inconvenience, or it may disrupt daily life and potentially be life-threatening.
When it comes to athletes, asthma can make it more difficult to perform. Exercise and overexertion can exacerbate asthma symptoms like tightness, wheezing, coughing, chest pain, and shortness of breath. Asthma can make it very difficult to catch your breath during or after activity. In fact, even people who do not normally suffer from asthma can experience exercise-induced asthma. This makes it very important for athletes to monitor their breathing and symptoms while participating in sports.
In addition, athletes should be aware of the temperature when they participate in their sport. Cold, dry air can make asthma symptoms worse. Breathing in cold air may also increase mucus production in the airways, which can make breathing more difficult and can even increase your risk of catching a cold or respiratory infection. For athletes competing in cold weather, like the Winter Olympics, it is important to have a treatment plan in place.
However, asthma does not need to prevent athletes from competing. Once asthma is diagnosed and a treatment plan is put into place, participating in sports can actually help to strengthen the breathing muscles and lungs.
Do Olympic athletes have asthma?
You may think that Olympians seem to be the picture of perfect health, but that does not mean they do not have challenges. The British Journal of Sports Medicine reports that approximately 8 percent of Olympic athletes are affected by asthma. In fact, asthma is considered to be the most common medical concern among Olympians. A few well-known past Olympians with asthma include Kristi Yamaguchi (figure skater), Amy Van Dyken (swimmer), and Jackie Joyner-Kersee (track star).
Managing Asthma in Your Everyday Life
Although asthma is a chronic condition, you do not need to let it hold you back—even when it comes to sports. While you might not be an Olympian (or you might be, one day!), you can learn ways to manage your asthma so you can enjoy the sports and activities you love. The key is to work with a doctor who can diagnose your condition and help you create a personalized treatment plan so you can live life to the fullest.
To learn more about how to manage asthma and to set up an appointment, we welcome you to contact us today at West River ENT & Allergy.