Many athletes with asthma may not be using the best treatment for their condition and could be putting their long-term health at risk. The findings are part of a roundup article featured on the British Medical Journal’s new Olympics portal, an online resource to keep doctors up to date with sports medicine content that will be available until the end of the Olympic and Para-Olympic games held in London this summer.

According to the article, asthma is strikingly common in elite athletes and its incidence has gradually risen at almost every Olympics since the 1970s. In 2004, almost 21% of the Olympic team from Great Britain had asthma compared with 8% of the British population.

A belief that beta-2 agonists could enhance performance led to suspicions that some athletes might be declaring themselves asthmatic in order to take the drugs. However, no studies have found evidence that inhaled asthma drugs improve performance. Tests introduced in 2001 revealed that some athletes had been misdiagnosed while others had asthma without realizing it.

This has led to concerns that some athletes may be harming themselves by using the wrong medication. For example, many athletes may have exercise-induced asthma, which needs to be managed and treated differently than full blown asthma.

Still, the article points out that a 2011 study showed that asthmatic athletes have consistently outperformed healthy athletes at every Olympic Games since 2000. Most elite athletes with asthma are able to perform so well because they have a detailed understanding of their condition and how best to control it while still training hard. And scientists now agree that exercise in most people with asthma enhances their lung function and improves their quality of life.

Source: British Medical Journal