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Predictive value of allergy and pulmonary function tests for the diagnosis of asthma in elite athletes


Prof. Sergio Bonini
Institute of Neurobiology and Molecular Medicine
Italian National Research Council
c/o Via Ugo de Carolis 59
00136 Rome


Background:  Asthma is frequently found in athletes, often associated with rhinitis and allergy.

Aim:  To study the predictive value of allergy and pulmonary function tests for the diagnosis of asthma in athletes.

Subjects and methods:  Ninety-eight national preOlympic athletes underwent an accurate medical examination including a validated questionnaire for asthma and rhinitis, spirometric recordings and skin prick testing with a panel of the most frequent inhalant allergens. Bronchodilator and/or exercise challenge were also performed in asthmatic subjects.

Results:  Clinical asthma was present in 20.4% of athletes, rhinitis in 35.3% (in 21.4% of cases alone and in 13.9% associated with asthma). Positive prick tests were recorded in 44.4% of athletes (in 60.5% of asthmatics, in 95.2% of rhinitics and in 21.0% of nonasthmatic – nonrhinitic subjects). Mean spirometric values and distribution of abnormal values were not different among asthmatics, rhinitics and nonasthmatics – nonrhinitic patients. Skin-tests positivity was not related to the abnormal spirometric data found in individual cases. Provocation tests with bronchodilators or exercise did not appear sensitive enough to diagnose mild forms of asthma in subjects with normal basal spirometric values.

Conclusions:  Allergy testing and spirometry should be performed routinely in athletes because of the high prevalence of allergy, rhinitis and asthma in this population. However, the predictive value of these tests and of the bronchial provocation tests performed in this study seems too low to document mild or subclinical asthma in athletes.