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Sunday, 24 September, 2000, 23:41 GMT 00:41 UK
High asthma rates in Olympic athletes
A high number of skiers have asthma
Scientists have backed up claims that many top-class athletes are suffering from asthma.

A study carried out by researchers in the US has revealed one in five American athletes who attended the Winter Olympic Games in 1998 had asthma.

They found 17% of the 196 athletes questioned were considered to have active asthma.

More than 22% reported having been diagnosed with the condition or taking medication.

The environment in which exercise is performed is important in leading to a decrease in the amount of exercise required to trigger asthma

Dr John Weiler, University of Iowa

A previous study had found that the same proportion of athletes who attended the summer Olympics in Atlanta in 1996 suffered from asthma.

But this latest research carried out by researchers at the University of Iowa found that athletes who took part in cross country skiing or short track events had a high risk of developing asthma.

They reported that almost one in four of those who participated in figure skating, snow boarding or curling had the condition.

They suggested the different rates of asthma between sports were caused by environmental factors.

"It suggests that the environment in which exercise is performed is important in leading to a decrease in the amount of exercise required to trigger asthma and perhaps in causing injury to the airways."

Some experts have suggested that a few athletes may seek diagnoses of asthma because this would allow them to use drugs which otherwise would be banned in competition by the sport's governing bodies.

But writing in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology Dr John Weiler, who carried out the study, said the findings should reassure young people with asthma.

"They should reassure younger athletes who have asthma and who wish to be competitive athletes," he said.

A spokeswoman for the National Asthma Campaign agreed.

"Having asthma shouldn't prevent people from having a full and active lifestyle and for some people this could be participating in sports at a high level.

"It depends on how their asthma is managed and on the severity of their condition."

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