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06/05/2008 - Press release

Sport and asthma: GA²LEN researchers follow European Olympic athletes to Beijing

Press release from GA²LEN

Ten centres of the research Network of Excellence GA²LEN, the Global Allergy and Asthma European Network, will be following athletes selected for the Olympic Games 2008 to assess the prevalence and diagnosis rates of asthma and allergies among top athletes in summer sports.

The pan-European study will allow scientists to specify the prevalence of asthma, exercise induced asthma and other allergic diseases among European athletes qualified for the Beijing Olympics, while identifying the differences in prevalence between a wide range of sports and between the different European regions.

The study is part of GA²LEN joint research activities on sports and allergic diseases. GA²LEN centres in ten countries are currently involved in the study, representing all geographical areas of Europe: Denmark, England, Finland, Germany, Greece, Italy, Norway, Poland, Portugal and Spain.

Athletes agreed to be followed before, during and after the Olympic Games with regular clinical examinations measuring their lung function, bronchial responsiveness and asthma symptoms. Allergy examination with skin prick test, and airways inflammation by means of exhaled nitric oxide will be measured. A respiratory laboratory run by GA²LEN scientists will be available in the Olympic Village in Beijing to provide care for athletes in need, in accordance to doping regulations. Clinical follow-up should also allow assessment of the impact of the local environment on potential symptoms.

According to earlier studies, about 20 percent of summer sports athletes have asthma . This proportion varies between different types of sports. Endurance sports in particular such as runners, swimmers, and cyclists, have been reported to have a high prevalence. It is suspected that endurance sports show higher level of asthma due to the prolonged periods with highly increased ventilation (3) due to the prolonged high level physical activity performed in these types of sports together with some environmental factors such as chlorine in water for swimmers or polluted air for cyclists and runners.

This study is the first pan-European study on allergy and asthma in athletes. It was first designed in Norway in agreement with the National Olympic Committee, to follow athletes and provide optimal care if needed. The scientists were also interested in learning more about the affect of air quality and pollution on the athletes. The protocol will be applied in the ten participating centres. This will allow scientists to collect comparable data on the degree of asthma and allergies in European athletes and to validate tools for further studies. This will also contribute to a better understanding of exercise-induced asthma.

The control of asthma, which include the ability to do normal physical activities and exercise, and even sport at Olympic level, is a focus of this year’s World Asthma Day, an event, held each year on the first Tuesday in May.

Notes for editors: 

  1. GA²LEN, the Global Allergy and Asthma European Network is a “Network of Excellence” funded by the European Union 6th Framework programme for research. It consists of 26 research centres, as well as the European Academy of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (EAACI) and the European Federation of Allergy Patients Associations (EFA). For more information, please visit www.ga2len.net
  2. The GA²LEN work package on sports, asthma and allergic diseases is lead by Prof. Kai-Hakon Carlsen, Norway. Notably, GA²LEN experts contributed to the Joint Task Force on Exercise-induced Asthma, Respiratory and Allergic disorders in sports and the relationship to doping, set up by the European Respiratory Society (ERS) and the European Academy of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (EAACI), a member of GA²LEN. The Task Force led to two scientific publications in the April and May issues of the Allergy journal. 
    1. K. H. Carlsen et al. (2008) Allergy 63 (4) 387–403 
    2. K. H. Carlsen et al. (2008) Allergy 63 (5) , 492–505 
  3. Endurance athletes have an highly increased ventilation, which is adequate and in relationship to the demands of their exercising body. This is different to the hyperventilation asthma patients can experience: an increased ventilation out of relationship to the demand.

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