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Acta Med Port. 2013 Jan-Feb;26(1):56-60. Epub 2013 Apr 24.

Exercise and airway injury in athletes.

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Allergy, Asthma & Sports Unit, Immunoallergology Department, Centro Hospitalar São João EPE/Faculty of Medicine, University of Porto, Porto, Portugal.


in English, Portuguese

Olympic level athletes present an increased risk for asthma and allergy, especially those who take part in endurance sports, such as swimming or running, and in winter sports. Classical postulated mechanisms behind EIA include the osmotic, or airway-drying, hypothesis. Hyperventilation leads to evaporation of water and the airway surface liquid becomes hyperosmolar, providing a stimulus for water to move from any cell nearby, which results in the shrinkage of cells and the consequent release of inflammatory mediators that cause airway smooth muscle contraction. But the exercise-induced asthma/bronchoconstriction explanatory model in athletes probably comprises the interaction between environmental training factors, including allergens and ambient conditions such as temperature, humidity and air quality; and athlete's personal risk factors, such as genetic and neuroimmuneendocrine determinants. After the stress of training and competitions athletes experience higher rate of upper respiratory tract infections (URTI), compared with lesser active individuals. Increasing physical activity in non-athletes is associated with a decreased risk of URTI. Heavy exercise induces marked immunodepression which is multifactorial in origin. Prolonged, high intensity exercise temporarily impairs the immune competence while moderate activity may enhance immune function. The relationship between URTI and exercise is affected by poorly known individual determinants such genetic susceptibility, neurogenic mediated immune inflammation and epithelial barrier dysfunction. Further studies should better define the aetiologic factors and mechanisms involved in the development of asthma in athletes, and propose relevant preventive and therapeutic measures.

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