Endurance athletes show an increased prevalence of airway hyperresponsiveness. The aim of the present study was to evaluate the long-term effects of training on airway responsiveness, inflammation and epithelial damage in swimmers and cold-air athletes.

In total, 64 elite athletes (32 swimmers and 32 cold-air athletes), 32 mild asthmatic subjects and 32 healthy controls underwent allergy skin prick testing, methacholine challenge and induced sputum analysis.

Overall, 69% of swimmers and 28% of cold-air athletes had airway hyperresponsiveness. Sputum neutrophil count correlated with the number of training hours per week in both swimmers and cold-air athletes. Eosinophil counts were higher in swimmers than in healthy subjects, although they were lower than in asthmatic subjects, and correlated with airway hyperresponsiveness in swimmers only. The eosinophil count in cold-air athletes was similar to that in healthy subjects. Bronchial epithelial cell count was not correlated with airway hyperresponsiveness but was significantly increased in swimmers, compared with healthy and asthmatic controls.

In conclusion, the present authors observed significant airway inflammation only in competitive athletes with airway hyperresponsiveness. However, the majority of elite athletes showed evidence of bronchial epithelial damage that could possibly contribute to the development of airway hyperresponsiveness.


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