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The Winter Olympics continue in Vancouver, Canada, and I just came across the New York Times article “Why Do So Many Winter Olympians Have Asthma?” by GRETCHEN REYNOLDS.
Exercise-induced asthma has been diagnosed in as many as half of all elite cross-country skiers and almost as many world-class ice skaters and hockey players. It’s far more common in winter athletes than in those who compete in the summer, although nearly 17 percent of Olympic-level distance runners have been given the same diagnosis.
Wondering why this might be, the author looks to doctors and researchers for the answers. First they suggest that:
Exercise-induced asthma is not quite the same condition as asthma. According to Dr. Christopher Randolph, a clinical professor at Yale University (Center for Allergy, Asthma and Immunology), the “preferred term” in the scientific community for exercise-induced asthma is exercise-induced bronchoconstriction, or E.I.B. “It’s a reversible, obstructive airway disease” that typically begins about five minutes after you stop exercising — particularly if your exercise was intense, “at between 85 and 95 percent of maximum heart rate,” Dr. Randolph says.
The first suggestion is that cooling and drying of the airways contribute to the development of exercise-related asthma symptoms. And there is a genetic factor, but
… pinpointing genetic susceptibilities to E.I.B. doesn’t answer the question of why it strikes so disproportionately among the world’s best athletes, especially those in winter sports.
This theory posits that E.I.B. is, in some fashion, a sports injury. “What we think is happening,” Dr. Randolph says, is that elite endurance athletes, especially those training more than 20 hours a week, actually “injure their airways” by breathing so much and so hard. “They take in up to 200 liters of air per minute,” he says, in comparison to perhaps five or six liters per minute at rest, all of which must be humidified.
At the end of the article, I was pleased to read that in addition to their advice about visiting a doctor and drug treatments, there were a couple of simple and sound recommendations such as Breathe through your nose and Warm up for at least 5 to 15 minutes.
While doctors and researchers look for answers, professional and amateur athletes can find them through the principals and practice of the Buteyko Breathing Method. Exercise-induced asthma (or EIA) causes breathing difficulty usually 5-20 minutes after starting intense physical activity, or shortly after stopping the activity. Yes, there is always a genetic factor, and yes, EIA occurs more easily in cold, dry environments, therefore, drying and cooling of the airways plays a role.
But the core reason is that during certain points of sports activities, the athlete’s lungs are ventilated more than their metabolism requires. The frequent large breaths in and out results in loss of CO2, which is not compensated properly by CO2 production due to the increased physical activity. As a result, the defense mechanism (airway constriction) activates. If you recall from the article, doctor Randolph said They take in up to 200 liters of air per minute (as opposed to 4-6 liters per minute at rest). And here lies the answer as to why EIA strikes shortly after starting intense physical activity or shortly after stopping the activity. That’s when the balance between CO2 production and ventilation is most out of proportion.
There is an easy solution to this problem. One of AsthmaCare students, a basketball player, writes:
I have a significant improvement with Exercise-Induced Asthma. I played a basketball game early on after starting the Buteyko Course and found that using the need to mouth breathe as a guideline to activity level, I had a great game. I recovered much quicker and could play at a satisfactory level. I am very pleased and motivated to continue bringing up my CP.
Another student who took a course just for wellbeing and physical endurance said:
When I exercise at the gym now, I am watching people mouth breathing, huffing and puffing through the same intensity routine I do with nasal breathing. I exercise to greater lengths with less effort, and I feel energized, not exhausted, after that.
By following the Buteyko Course recommendations you will be able to advance your fitness level and avoid breathlessness, wheezing and coughing during sports participation as well as fatigue after sports activities.
Buteyko Clinic USA offers unique breathing rehabilitation programs that result in long term drug free control over asthma, allergies, COPD, rhinitis, chronic cough, snoring, sleep apnea, anxiety, panic, chronic hyperventilation syndrome and other chronic conditions. Contact us today for a free consultation.