Swimming and Tennis: Indicators of developing asthma?

30 Aug Swimming and Tennis: Indicators of developing asthma?

Well-known are the benefits of exercise to our general health. Recreational sports are one of the most popular ways for people to stay healthy and improve their activities of daily living. We also love to watch our heroes and superstar sporting persons perform. However, could these sports that we love, be causing us, and our favourite superstar athletes, to have a higher risk of developing asthma?

A recent study highlighted the prevalence of asthma and asthma-related symptoms in elite swimming and tennis players. This study aimed to determine whether one sport had a larger prevalence for asthma than the other, amongst other factors. In order to collate a broad range of data, the study included several parameters for determining asthma in each sporting population; the participants completed the following tests: a questionnaire that asked about their respiratory symptoms, a Mannitol Challenge to induce bronchial provocation and mimic the symptoms of asthma, an exercise challenge test with respiratory testing throughout to determine the affect that exercise has on their airway function.

The results elicited showed that the swimmers had higher frequencies of asthma symptoms both at rest and during/post exercise than the tennis players. 26% of swimmers recorded a positive Mannitol Challenge – which definitively rules in asthma as a diagnosis. However, the exercise challenge test showed that both swimmers and tennis players have a high susceptibility to exercise-induced asthma. Both cohorts reported asthma-related symptoms and experienced decreased airway function; although, the authors noted a flaw in this part of their testing. The exercise challenge tests performed were specific to the sports of the cohort i.e. the swimmers performed a swimming test, and the tennis players performed a running test on a tennis court. Whilst this method was reliable in reproducing results that are highly specific to the symptoms that would be displayed in real games/races/trainings, it means that the load and exertion placed on the athletes cannot be quantified between the sports – was the swimming test or the running tennis test harder? This could significantly impact on the results of the study.

Overall, this study showed that both swimming and tennis players have a high prevalence for asthma that is directly related to their sporting outlets. Can we definitively say that swimming and tennis are harmful to us and some of our most beloved athletes then?

At least this might explain the clock-work like dips in performance from the like of Kyrgios, Tomic and James Magnussen.



Kerstin Romberg, Ellen Tufvesson, Leif Bjermer

Respiratory Medicine and Allergology, Department of Clinical Sciences, Lund, Lund University, Lund, Health Care Center, Näsets Läkargrupp, Höllviken, Sweden