Breathing Problems in Athletes often Mistaken for Asthma

Study finds other conditions mimic exercise-induced asthma.

If you’ve been told you have asthma, but still have running-induced breathing problems, you may have been misdiagnosed, a new study suggests.

The study looked at 88 athletes who went through a full clinical asthma test after complaining of respiratory problems when exercising. These were serious athletes, who trained at least 10 hours per week.

As the study authors note, although many athletes are diagnosed with asthma, and given bronchodilators and other forms of treatment, a large percentage of these athletes continue to have respiratory problems when exercising. One common problem, the study authors say, is exercise-induced laryngeal obstruction, or hindrances to breathing fully in the larynx, commonly known as the voice box.

One of the procedures undergone by the 88 athletes was a continuous laryngoscopy during exercise. This test provides a continuous image of the larynx during exercise and, the study authors say, is the best way to assess whether someone has exercise-induced laryngeal obstruction.

Of the 88 athletes, 31 had exercise-induced laryngeal obstruction, as determined by the continuous laryngoscopy. This is significant, the study authors say, because there was no difference in positive tests for asthma between those who had laryngeal obstruction and those who didn’t. In other words, exercise-induced laryngeal obstruction appeared to exist independently of whether an athlete had asthma. As such, the study authors say, it’s a condition that should be looked for when athletes complain of respiratory problems during exercise.

Another important finding, the study authors say, is that a large number of the athletes appeared to be mistakenly taking asthma medication. Of the 88 athletes, 53 were taking regular asthma treatment. Of those athletes, almost two-thirds “did not have pulmonary function or bronchoprovocation evidence to support a diagnosis of asthma,” the study authors wrote.

Of those athletes, 12 showed evidence of exercise-induced laryngeal obstruction but not asthma, but were nonetheless regularly taking asthma medication, which the study authors called “alarming.”


Related Articles