Purpose: The purpose of this study was to compare a laboratory based exercise challenge (LBC) to a field based exercise challenge (FBC) for pulmonary function test (PFT) exercise-induced asthma (EIA) screening of elite athletes.
Methods: Twenty-three elite cold weather athletes (14 men, 9 women) PFT positive for EIA (FBC screened) served as subjects. Twenty-three gender and sport matched controls (nonasthmatics) were randomly selected to establish PFT reference values for normal elite athletes. Before FBC, athletes completed a medical history questionnaire for EIA symptoms. FBC evaluations consisted of baseline spirometry, actual or simulated competition, and 5, 10, and 15 min postexercise spirometry. PFT positive athletes were evaluated in the laboratory using an exercise challenge simulating race intensity (ambient conditions: 21 degrees C, 60% relative humidity). PFT procedures were identical to FBC.
Results: 91% of PFT positive and 48% of PFT normal athletes reported at least one symptom of EIA, with postrace cough most frequent. Baseline spirometry was the same for PFT positives and normal controls. Lower limit reference range (MN - 2 SD) of FEV1 for controls suggests that postexercise decrements of greater than approximately -7% indicate abnormal airway response in this population. Exercise time duration did not effect bronchial reactivity; 78% of FBC PFT positives were PFT normal post-LBC.
Conclusion: Self-reported symptoms by elite athletes are not reliable in identifying EIA. Reference range criterion for FEV1 decrement in the elite athlete postexercise contrasts current recommended guidelines. Moreover, a large number of false negatives may occur in this population if EIA screening is performed with inadequate exercise and environmental stress.