Implications of air pollution effects on athletic performance

Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1986 Jun;18(3):322-7. doi: 10.1249/00005768-198606000-00012.


Both controlled human studies and observational studies suggest that air pollution adversely affects athletic performance during both training and competition. The air pollution dosage during exercise is much higher than during rest because of a higher ventilatory rate and both nasal and oral breathing in the former case. For example, sulfur dioxide, which is a highly water-soluble gas, is almost entirely absorbed in the upper respiratory tract during nasal breathing. However, with oral pharyngeal breathing, the amount of sulfur dioxide that is absorbed is significantly less, and with exercise and oral pharyngeal breathing a significant decrease in upper airway absorption occurs, resulting in a significantly larger dosage of this pollutant being delivered to the tracheobronchial tree. Recently, several controlled human studies have shown that the combination of exercise and pollutant exposure (SO2 or O3) caused a marked bronchoconstriction and reduced ventilatory flow when compared to pollution exposure at rest. In a situation like the Olympic Games where milliseconds and millimeters often determine the success of athletes, air pollution can be an important factor in affecting their performance. This paper examines possible impacts of air pollution on athletic competition.

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollution / adverse effects*
  • Albuterol / therapeutic use
  • Asthma, Exercise-Induced / diagnosis
  • Asthma, Exercise-Induced / etiology
  • Asthma, Exercise-Induced / therapy
  • Cromolyn Sodium / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Hypersensitivity / etiology
  • Hypersensitivity / therapy
  • Lung / physiopathology
  • Ozone / adverse effects
  • Physical Exertion*
  • Premedication
  • Respiration / drug effects*
  • Sports*
  • Sulfur Dioxide / adverse effects
  • Theophylline / therapeutic use


  • Sulfur Dioxide
  • Ozone
  • Theophylline
  • Cromolyn Sodium
  • Albuterol