Asthma in elite athletes

Expert Rev Respir Med. 2011 Jun;5(3):343-51. doi: 10.1586/ers.11.28.


Asthma is frequently found among elite athletes performing endurance sports such as swimming, rowing and cross-country skiing. Although these athletes often report symptoms while exercising, they seldom have symptoms at rest. Moreover, compared with nonathletic asthmatic individuals, elite athletes have been shown to have a different distribution of airway inflammation and unequal response to bronchial provocative test. Elite athletes display signs of exercise-induced symptoms, for example, nonasthmatic inspiratory wheeze, vocal cord dysfunction and cardiac arrhythmias, which could limit their physical capacity. Elite athletes should undergo comprehensive assessment to confirm an asthma diagnosis and determine its degree of severity. Treatment should be as for any other asthmatic individual, including the use of β2-agonist, inhaled steroid as well as leukotriene-antagonist. It should, however, be noted that daily use of β-agonists could expose elite athletes to the risk of developing tolerance towards these drugs. Use of β2-agonist should be replaced with daily inhaled corticosteroid treatment, the most important treatment of exercise-induced asthma. All physicians treating asthma should be aware of the doping aspects. Systemic β2-agonist intake is strictly prohibited, whereas inhaled treatment is allowed in therapeutic doses when asthma is documented and dispensation has been granted when needed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones / administration & dosage
  • Adrenergic beta-2 Receptor Agonists / administration & dosage
  • Anti-Asthmatic Agents / administration & dosage
  • Asthma, Exercise-Induced / diagnosis
  • Asthma, Exercise-Induced / drug therapy
  • Asthma, Exercise-Induced / epidemiology
  • Asthma, Exercise-Induced / physiopathology*
  • Athletic Performance*
  • Bronchial Provocation Tests
  • Doping in Sports
  • Humans
  • Leukotriene Antagonists / administration & dosage
  • Lung / drug effects
  • Lung / physiopathology*
  • Physical Endurance
  • Prevalence
  • Severity of Illness Index


  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones
  • Adrenergic beta-2 Receptor Agonists
  • Anti-Asthmatic Agents
  • Leukotriene Antagonists