Patterns of allergic reactivity and disease in Olympic athletes

Clin J Sport Med. 2006 Sep;16(5):401-5. doi: 10.1097/01.jsm.0000244606.56935.59.


Objective: Because the Sydney Olympic Games were being held in the spring, we wished to examine the prevalence of allergic disorders in the Australian Olympic and Paralympic athletes and to examine patterns of allergic reactivity and medication use for the treatment of allergic symptoms.

Design: A survey case series of Australian Olympic and Paralympic athletes.

Setting: Screening was conducted on team processing days.

Participants: Prospective members of the Australian Olympic and Paralympic teams.

Intervention: A questionnaire seeking information on the presence of allergic disorders, symptoms, family history, and medication use was administered. Skin-prick tests (SPT) for sensitivity to common aeroallergens was performed.

Outcome measures: Athletes were classified as atopic or non-atopic, and patterns of reactivity were examined according to sporting category.

Results: Of the athletes, 56% had a positive SPT to at least 1 allergen, with 34% reacting to at least 1 seasonal allergen. There was no significant association between skin test reactivity and sporting category. Of the athletes, 37% had allergic rhinoconjunctivitis (AR/C), whereas 24% had seasonal allergic rhinoconjunctivitis (SAR/C). Approximately one-third of all those with AR/C had a history of asthma, whereas approximately one-fifth had a history of atopic dermatitis. Swimmers were most likely to have asthma, AR/C, and positive skin tests to any allergen. Very few athletes with self-reported AR/C took any medication to relieve their symptoms.

Conclusions: Allergic disorders are common among athletes from all sports. The known impact of AR/C on quality of life necessitates that it be screened for and managed appropriately.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anniversaries and Special Events
  • Asthma / epidemiology
  • Australia / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Hypersensitivity / epidemiology*
  • Male
  • Prevalence
  • Rhinitis, Allergic, Seasonal / epidemiology*
  • Risk Assessment
  • Risk Factors
  • Seasons
  • Sports*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Swimming