Introduction: Occurrence of asthma has been reported to be frequent in endurance athletes and especially high in winter sport athletes. Recently, the International Olympic Committee has restricted the use of inhaled beta2-agonists and requires documentation for their use. However, epidemiologic data comparing the use of antiasthmatic medication in different sport events are mostly missing.
Methods: A cross-sectional questionnaire survey was carried out in 2002. All the athletes (N = 494) financially supported by National Olympic Committee comprised the study group. Of them, 446 (90.3%) filled in a structured questionnaire concerning asthma and allergies, use of medication, characteristics of sport activities, and smoking habits. A representative sample of Finnish young adults (N = 1 504) served as controls.
Results: Physician-diagnosed asthma was more common in athletes as compared with controls (13.9% vs 8.4%). Use of any asthma medication was reported by 9.6% of the athletes and by 4.2% of the controls. No difference was observed in the frequency of asthma medication used by winter or summer sport athletes (10.0% vs 9.4%). Inhaled beta2-agonists were used by 7.4% and 3.0% of the athletes and controls, respectively. After adjusting for age, sex, and smoking, odds ratio with 95% confidence interval for use of any asthma medication was 0.69 (0.17-2.92) for motor skills demanding events, 1.87 (0.85-4.11) for speed and power sports, 3.00 (1.68-5.37) for team sports, and 4.16 (2.22-7.78) for endurance events as compared with controls. None of the athletes used antiasthmatic medication without physician diagnosis.
Conclusions: The frequency of antiasthmatic medication is clearly lower than the occurrence of physician-diagnosed asthma in Finnish Olympic athletes. No evidence of overuse of inhaled beta2-agonists is found.