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2014 Winter Olympics: Cross-Country Skiing and Exercise-Induced Asthma

Date: February 13, 2014 Category: Uncategorized


Cross country skiing has been an Olympic sport since the first Games in Chamonix, France in 1924 with women’s events being added in the 1952 Games in Oslo, Norway.  A total of 18 events comprise the Cross-country skiing schedule and include individual and team events.  Two styles of skiing used in cross-country at the Olympics are Classical and Freestyle.  In Classical style, skiers use a straight stride and must stay within pre-determined parallel tracks.  Up until 1988 this was the only style allowed in the Olympics.  In Freestyle skiing, skiers push off with each ski on each stride much like ice-skating.


What is it?  Asthma is a condition where there is chronic inflammation of the breathing passages (bronchi) in the lungs.  It is characterized by episodes of sudden severe attacks interspersed with bothersome episodes of mild symptoms or no symptoms at all.  In athletes with exercise-induced asthma (EIA, d breathing through the mouth associated with exercise can cause colder and drier air to come into contact with moist, warm air in the lungs and trigger an asthma exacerbation. Because of this, it is believed that athletes with the condition are more sensitive to temperature and humidity in the air that can trigger attacks.  People with EIA often will only experience attacks during exercise with no other known triggers causing attacks in different circumstances. Activities taking place in the cold or those with continuous activity such as running, basketball, soccer and cross-country skiing are common triggers for EIA.

What are the symptoms?    Symptoms of EIA usually begin between five to 20 minutes after beginning exercises and can persist for five to ten minutes after stopping the activity.  Symptoms usually completely resolve within one hour.  Common symptoms include coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, fatigue, chest pain or chest tightness.   In children these symptoms can manifest as the child not being able to keep up with friends or as participation avoidance.  EIA is diagnosed by a physician obtaining a complete medical history and a detailed history of the attacks along with a physical examination.  If necessary, testing in the form of spirometry or peak flow measurement may be ordered to see how forcefully you can breathe out during an attack.  Also the amount of oxygen in your bloodstream may be measured by oximetry.  A chest x-ray may or may not be ordered as well.

What is the treatment?  The goals of EIA treatment are to prevent attacks, maintain near-normal lung function, carry on with normal activities and have as few medication side effects as possible.  Medication is often taken before exercise to prevent attacks.  Usually short or long acting beta-agonist bronchodilator inhalers are used for this purpose.  Other preventative medications may be necessary as well, depending on the severity of EIA, and include inhaled cromolyn or oral leukotriene inhibitors.  Additionally, preventative measures as noted below can also be undertaken to prevent attacks.

How can it be prevented?  Prevention of EIA includes integrating gradual warm up and cool down periods into exercise routines, avoiding exertion when you have a respiratory infection, avoiding smoking and not exercising outdoors during a high pollen count if you have allergies.  Additionally, avoiding exertion in the cold can minimize attacks.  If exertion in the cold is necessary, then breathing through your nose and covering your mouth and nose with a scarf to help moisten and humidify the inhaled air can help reduce attacks.

Random useless trivia about Cross-Country Skiing:  Canadian cross-country skier Brian McKeever was the first winter sports athlete to participate in both the Olympic and Paralympic Games.  He suffered from Stargardt’s disease, which left him with impaired eyesight.

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