Airway hyperresponsiveness in elite athletes

Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2000 May;161(5):1479-84. doi: 10.1164/ajrccm.161.5.9909008.


It has been suggested that high-level training could contribute to the development of airway hyperresponsiveness (AHR), but the comparative effects of different sports on airway function remains to be determined. We evaluated 150 nonsmoking volunteers 18 to 55 yr of age; 100 athletes divided into four subgroups of 25 subjects each according to the predominant estimated hydrocaloric characteristic of ambient air inhaled during training: dry air (DA), cold air (CA), humid air (HA) and a mixture of dry and humid air (MA), and 50 sedentary subjects. Each subject had a respiratory questionnaire, a methacholine challenge, allergy skin-prick tests, and heart rate variability recording for evaluation of parasympathetic tone. The athletes had a 49% prevalence of AHR (PC(20) < 16 mg/ml), with a mean PC(20) of 16.9 mg/ml, compared with 28% (PC(20): 35.4) in sedentary subjects (p = 0.009). The prevalence (%) of AHR and mean PC(20) (mg/ml) varied as followed in the four subgroups of athletes: DA: 32% and 30.9; CA: 52% and 15.8; HA: 76% and 7.3; and MA: 32% and 21.5 (p = 0.002). The estimated parasympathetic tone was higher in athletes (p < 0.001), but this parameter showed only a weak correlation with PC(20) (r = -0.17, p = 0.04). This study has shown a significantly higher prevalence of AHR in athletes than in the control group because of the higher prevalence in the CA and HA groups. Parasympathetic activity may act as modulator of airway responsiveness, but the increased prevalence of AHR in our athlete population may be related to the type and possibly the content of inhaled air during training.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Bronchial Hyperreactivity*
  • Bronchial Provocation Tests
  • Cold Temperature
  • Cough / etiology
  • Exercise
  • Female
  • Forced Expiratory Volume
  • Humans
  • Humidity
  • Hypersensitivity, Immediate / diagnosis
  • Male
  • Methacholine Chloride
  • Middle Aged
  • Respiratory Sounds / etiology
  • Skin Tests
  • Sports / physiology*
  • Vital Capacity


  • Methacholine Chloride