CONTACT: BECKY SOGLIN
Iowa City IA 52242
(319) 335-6660; fax (319) 335-8034
Release: Sept 22, 2000
UI study: Asthma symptoms common among U.S. athletes in 1998 Winter Olympics
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Asthma appears to be more common among elite American
athletes who participate in winter sports than those who participate in summer
sports, according to a University of Iowa study of Olympic competitors.
The study analyzed the asthma history and symptoms of the 196 United States
participants in the 1998 Winter Olympic Games in Nagano, Japan, and compared
the results to previous findings for American athletes in the 1996 Summer
Olympic Games in Atlanta. The study was published in the August issue of the
Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.
"Asthma is common even among elite athletes, and it appears that at
least one in five American athletes who participated in the 1998 Winter Olympics
had the condition," said John Weiler, M.D., UI professor of internal
medicine and co-principal investigator. "This compares to our previous
finding that one in six American athletes at the 1996 Summer Olympic Games
had a history of asthma or had used medication for the condition."
Edward J. Ryan, of the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) in Colorado
Springs, Colo., also helped lead the study. Weiler said the researchers did
not examine each athlete for asthma but looked at their medical history questionnaires,
which all athletes were required to complete. The questionnaire asks approximately
60 questions and was designed by the USOC Sports Medicine Division.
Of the 196 winter athletes, 44, or 22.4 percent, reported that they were
currently taking asthma medication, had been diagnosed as having asthma or
both. Comparatively, 16.7 percent of the U.S. athletes in the 1996 Summer
Olympic Games recorded the same responses. Weiler, UI colleagues and the USOC
reported those findings in 1998, also in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical
Winter athletes participating in the nordic-combined, cross-country and
short-track were most likely to have been told they had asthma or had taken
medicine to control asthma, with nearly 60.7 percent, 17 of 28 individuals,
reporting one or both of these conditions. In contrast, only 2.8 percent (one
individual) of the 36 bobsled, biathlon, luge and ski-jumping athletes said
they had been diagnosed with asthma or taken asthma medication.
In addition, more females than males participating in the winter games reported
an asthma condition or medication use.
Athletes without asthma fared somewhat better in the 1998 winter games than
those with asthma, with 17.8 percent of the former group winning an individual
or team medal, and 11.4 percent of the group with asthma taking home an award.
In the 1996 Summer Olympic Games, the percentages of those winning medals
were nearly equally distributed with 28.7 percent of the U.S. participants
without asthma earning medals and nearly 30 percent of the athletes with asthma
Weiler said the environment in which exercise is performed can contribute
to breathing problems.
"Breathing cold air is more likely to trigger asthma than warmer air,"
he said. "This is thought to be due to airway cooling and the subsequent
re-warming that occurs. Another hypothesis is that the loss of fluids from
the airway, which can occur more readily in cold than in warm air, causes
the asthma attack."
Weiler said that another group of investigators has completed exercise studies
in a portion of the 196 athletes who participated in the 1998 winter games.
Those studies confirm the observations that Weiler and Ryan have reported.
"Their data confirm that at least one in five athletes competing in
the Nagano winter games probably had asthma," he said.
Based on the findings for both the 1996 summer and 1998 winter games, Weiler
speculated that at least 20 percent of United States athletes currently participating
in the 2000 Olympics have asthma.
He noted that with proper diagnosis and treatment, athletes with asthma
can compete at the highest of levels, including the Olympics.
University of Iowa Health Care describes the partnership between
the UI College of Medicine and the UI Hospitals and Clinics and the patient
care, medical education and research programs and services they provide.