The Role of Airway Inflammation and Bronchial Hyperresponsiveness in Athlete’s Asthma

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Abstract

Purpose

Asthma is frequently reported in endurance athletes. The aim of the present study was to assess the long-term airway inflammatory response to endurance exercise in high-level athletes with and without asthma.

Methods

In a cross-sectional design, 20 asthmatic athletes (10 swimmers and 10 cross-country skiers), 19 athletes without asthma (10 swimmers and 9 cross-country skiers), and 24 healthy nonathletes completed methacholine bronchial challenge, lung function tests, and sputum induction on two separate days. All athletes competed on a national or international level and exercised ≥10 h·wk−1. The nonathletes exercised ≤5 h·wk−1 and reported no previous lung disease. Bronchial hyperresponsiveness (BHR) was defined as a methacholine provocation dose causing 20% decrease in the forced expiratory volume in 1 s of ≤8 μmol.

Results

BHR was present in 13 asthmatic athletes (62%), 11 healthy athletes (58%), and 8 healthy nonathletes (32%), and the prevalence differed among groups (P = 0.005). Sputum inflammatory and epithelial cell counts did not differ between groups and were within the normal range. Median (25th to 75th percentiles) sputum interleukin-8 was elevated in both asthmatic (378.4 [167.0–1123.4]) and healthy (340.2 [175.5–892.4]) athletes as compared with healthy nonathletes (216.6 [129.5–314.0], P = 0.02). No correlations were found between provocation dose causing 20% decrease and sputum cell counts.

Conclusion

Independent of asthma diagnosis, a high occurrence of BHR and an increased sputum interleukin-8 were found in athletes as compared with nonathletes. Airway inflammation or epithelial damage was not related to BHR.

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