Asthma deaths during sports: report of a 7-year experience

J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2004 Feb;113(2):264-7. doi: 10.1016/j.jaci.2003.10.052.


Background: Asthma mortality and the mortality of athletes during sports have been described separately in detail in the medical literature. However, asthma has not been reported as a cause of death in competitive athletes.

Objective: The object of this study was to raise the awareness of physicians, coaches, trainers, and parents that children and adults can have fatal asthma exacerbations during and immediately after participating in sports.

Methods: The Temple Sports Asthma Research Center identified athletes from 1993 until 2000 who died during or after sporting activity by using the nationwide Burrell's Information Service. Once a possible asthma-related sports death was identified, the autopsy report was requested from the coroner or medical examiner, and an attempt was made to contact the family. Contact with the family was limited to information about the death, medical history, sports involvement, and any medication usage by the person who had died. Secondary sources, including news reports, were used to confirm whether the subject died of asthma during or immediately after a sporting activity.

Results: Two hundred sixty-three possible cases were identified. Sixty-one deaths met the criteria for study inclusion. White deaths outnumbered black deaths by 2 to 1. Deaths among male subjects predominated. Most subjects were younger than the age of 20 years, with the most prevalent age group being between 10 to 14 years old. Fifty-one percent (18 of 35) of the competitive athletes had their fatal event while participating in organized sport, 14 in a practice situation and 4 deaths during a game or meet setting. Basketball and track were the 2 most frequent activities performed at the time of the fatal event.

Conclusion: The subjects who had fatal asthma exacerbations were usually white male subjects between the ages of 10 and 20 years. Mild intermittent or persistent asthma by history was commonly identified. Sudden fatal asthma exacerbations occur in both competitive and recreational athletes and can be precipitated by sporting activity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Asthma / complications
  • Asthma / mortality*
  • Cause of Death
  • Child
  • Death, Sudden / epidemiology
  • Death, Sudden / etiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Recreation
  • Sports*