Asthma in elite athletes: pathogenesis, diagnosis, differential diagnoses, and treatment

Phys Sportsmed. 2011 Sep;39(3):163-71. doi: 10.3810/psm.2011.09.1932.


Elite athletes have a high prevalence of asthma and exercise-induced bronchoconstriction. Although respiratory symptoms can be suggestive of asthma, the diagnosis of asthma in elite athletes cannot be based solely on the presence or absence of symptoms; diagnosis should be based on objective measurements, such as the eucapnic voluntary hyperpnea test or exercise test. When considering that not all respiratory symptoms are due to asthma, other diagnoses should be considered. Certain regulations apply to elite athletes who require asthma medication for asthma. Knowledge of these regulations is essential when treating elite athletes. This article is aimed at physicians who diagnose and treat athletes with respiratory symptoms. It focuses on the pathogenesis of asthma and exercise-induced bronchoconstriction in elite athletes and how the diagnosis can be made. Furthermore, treatment of elite athletes with asthma, anti-doping regulations, and differential diagnoses such as exercise-induced laryngomalacia are discussed.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Asthmatic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Asthma, Exercise-Induced / diagnosis*
  • Asthma, Exercise-Induced / therapy*
  • Athletes*
  • Bronchial Provocation Tests
  • Bronchoconstriction
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Doping in Sports
  • Exercise Test
  • Humans
  • Nutritional Support
  • Pollen / adverse effects
  • Respiratory Protective Devices


  • Anti-Asthmatic Agents