The World Anti-Doping Code: can you have asthma and still be an elite athlete?

The World Anti-Doping Code (the Code) does place some restrictions on prescribing inhaled β2-agonists, but these can be overcome without jeopardising the treatment of elite athletes with asthma.While the Code permits the use of inhaled glucocorticoids without restriction, oral and intravenous glucocorticoids are prohibited, although a mechanism exists that allows them to be administered for acute severe asthma.Although asthmatic athletes achieved outstanding sporting success during the 1950s and 1960s before any anti-doping rules existed, since introduction of the Code’s policies on some drugs to manage asthma results at the Olympic Games have revealed that athletes with confirmed asthma/airway hyperresponsiveness (AHR) have outperformed their non-asthmatic rivals.It appears that years of intensive endurance training can provoke airway injury, AHR and asthma in athletes without any past history of asthma. Although further research is needed, it appears that these consequences of airway injury may abate in some athletes after they have ceased intensive training. The World Anti-Doping Code (the Code) has not prevented asthmatic individuals from becoming elite athletes.

This review examines those sections of the Code that are relevant to respiratory physicians who manage elite and sub-elite athletes with asthma. The restrictions that the Code places or may place on the prescription of drugs to prevent and treat asthma in athletes are discussed. In addition, the means by which respiratory physicians are able to treat their elite asthmatic athlete patients with drugs that are prohibited in sport are outlined, along with some of the pitfalls in such management and how best to prevent or minimise them.

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