Ask the Doctor:
by Dr. David Peden

A common condition found in all athletes is asthma. Features of asthma include coughing, wheezing and, in bad cases, true difficulty wheezing that occur episodically. The underlying problem seen with asthma is inflammation (irritation) of the airways. In children, this inflammation is generally associated with allergy. In adults who develop asthma as adults, this is true about 50% of the time. However, what most people notice are acute episodes of asthma. Factors that trigger asthma include viral infections (colds), exposure to something a person is allergic to (say, cats) and exercise. The reason exercise causes asthma attacks is that with rapid breathing, the air in the lungs becomes too dry, irritating the airways and
David Peden
causing cough. Because Judo is generally an aerobic sport, judoka with asthma could have problems. The usual pattern for exercise-induced bronchospasm (asthma caused by exercise) is coughing or wheezing after a period of aerobic exercise (usually NOT during exercise).

Fortunately, there are things that a person can do to prevent exercise-induced bronchospasm. First, an inhaled medication called albuterol can be used 15-30 minutes prior to practice and will prevent asthma symptoms from occurring in most people with asthma. In people with more severe asthma, inhaled corticosteroids can be used to prevent asthma symptoms. Unlike albuterol, which only treats bronchospasm, inhaled steroids decrease the underlying inflammation associated with asthma. If you or a person in your club has coughing or wheezing frequently, or has nighttime cough or wheeze or gets significantly worse with colds, it may be worthwhile to have them see a physician. While there is no cure for asthma, medications like albuterol and inhaled steroids can go a long way towards keeping asthma under control.

Dr. Peden is the faculty advisor to the Carolina Judo Club at UNC and has the Judo rank of Nidan. He is also Professor of Pediatrics, Medicine and Microbiology/Immunology, Chief of the Division of Pediatric Allergy, immunology, Rheumatology and Infectious Diseases and Director of the Center for Environmental Medicine, Asthma and Lung Biology at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine. He is board certified in Pediatrics, Allergy and Immunology and Diagnostic Laboratory Immunology.

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