Athletes active in endurance sports are at an increased risk of acquiring asthma through their sports activities, especially so for cross-country skiers, biathlon skiers, swimmers and athletes of other endurance sports. Asthma may be present from early childhood or develop while in active sports. This article focuses on the physical activity and sports activities in children and adolescents. Exercise-induced asthma (EIA) is found in 8–10% of a normal child population of school age and in about 35% of children with current asthma.
EIA is caused by the markedly increased ventilation during exercise, with increased heat and water loss through respiration, leading to bronchial constriction. The risk of developing asthma in the young athlete is related to the repeated daily training activity with increased epithelial damage of the airways, delayed repair due to the daily repetition of the training and increased airway mucosal inflammation. The increased environmental exposure through the sports activity to environmental agents, such as cold, dry air in skiers and chlorine compounds in swimmers, increases symptoms and signs of asthma and bronchial hyper-responsiveness, either worsening an existing asthma or leading to a novel disease in a previously healthy athlete.
Several specific aspects of daily training life, environmental exposure, diagnostic procedures and aspects of treatment related to the regulations of medication use in sports need particular attention when addressing the adolescent athlete with respiratory symptoms.
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