Should Asthma Medication be Banned for Competitive Athletes?

Diagram of Asthma in the Bronchial (Bupa Health UK)

According to WHO, approximately 235 million people suffer from asthma. Asthma is a condition in which your airways become irritated and inflamed (Bupa Health UK). The muscles in the walls of the bronchial tighten which makes the inner surface swell, creating mucus, ultimately making the airway narrow and decreasing the oxygen intake. This leads to, symptoms such as shortness of breathing, chest tightness or pain and coughing or wheezing (Asthma, 2018). According to Mayo Clinic, there are 3 different types of asthma: “Exercise-induced asthma, Occupational asthma, and Allergy-induced asthma.” Mayo clinic also states that, the main causes of asthma are, airborne substances, respiratory infections, physical activity, cold air, air pollutants and irritants, medications, strong emotions and stress, sulfites and preservatives in some food, and Gastroesophageal reflux disease.

 

There are many types of medication such as reliever inhalers which help alleviate asthma symptoms. According to Bupa Health UK, “[inhalers] have gas which propels medicine into the airways, so that the muscles relax and the airways open up.” Medication helps asthma, however, for athletes, some medication such as salbutamol are banned by the World Anti Doping Agency (World). “The World Anti-Doping Agency was founded with the aim of bringing consistency to anti-doping policies and regulations within sport organizations and governments right across the world”(World). The use of a substantial amount of asthma medication will help athletes cope with their symptoms and compete fairly with non asthmatic athletes, because asthmatic athletes have disadvantages such as endurance. However, using an excess amount of asthma medicine can enhance performance greatly because the cardiovascular increases due to the airways widening (Fitch).

Norwegian cross-country skier, Johnsrud Sundby (Connor)

According to Philip O’ Connor on the Reuters, in 2016, Johnsrud Sundby — Norwegian cross-country skier — was banned to compete due to the over-use of an asthma medicine. The Norway team says that they use asthma medicine even though there are no symptoms because it helps prevent asthma. However, there is little evidence that it actually prevents symptoms. There are people in the world who overuse their asthma to have an advantage. Sweden team doctor Per Andersson argues that “ one shouldn’t medicate healthy skiers that don’t need medicine. That is a fundamental principle that is important to uphold” (Connor), and I strongly agree to his opinion.

 

Overall, asthma medicine should be available for people who are in desperate need because it is unethical to take away their freedom to compete fairly. The solution to this debate is the readjustment of the Doping Rules of WADA so that it can fully fulfill its purpose. According to the Global News, “while many substances such as steroids are banned, everyday medicine like nasal spray and certain kinds of asthma medication are also banned, (making it very difficult and unfair for people who may have inherent disadvantages).” They can fix it by including a strict test system which accurately diagnose and decide how much medication should be accepted for each individual athlete. This will allow each individual to compete fairly with minimal effect of asthma. However, there are also disadvantages, such as the cost of time for the athlete with asthma, as they need to take these diagnosis tests frequently, which can interfere with training. In addition, it is difficult for the WADA to make competition completely fair. Although it will not be a practical solution to this issue, I think it all comes down to each individual athlete being sensible and moral with their use of medicine.

 

Works Cited

“Asthma.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 9 Mar. 2018, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/asthma/symptoms-causes/syc-20369653.

“Asthma.” World Health Organization, World Health Organization, 21 Nov. 2013, www.who.int/respiratory/asthma/en/.

Bupa Health UK, director. How an Asthma Attack Occurs. Youtube, Youtube, 3 July 2013, www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yp5ixuFiMmM.

Connor, Philip O’. “Norway’s Cross-Country Olympic Success Clouded by Asthma Drug Ethics.” Reuters, Thomson Reuters, 6 Jan. 2018, www.reuters.com/article/us-olympics-2018-nors-norway/norways-cross-country-olympic-success-clouded-by-asthma-drug-ethics-idUSKBN1EV0EC.

Fitch, Ken. “The World Anti-Doping Code: Can You Have Asthma and Still Be an Elite Athlete?” NCBI, U.S. National Library of Medicine, June 2016, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4933613/.

Vomiero, Jessica. “Olympic Doping: Athletes Turn to Common Nasal Spray, Asthma Inhalers, for Edge.” Global News, Global News, 22 Feb. 2018, globalnews.ca/news/4040713/olympic-athletes-doping-prescription-drugs/.

World Anti-Doping Agency, WADA, 1 Dec. 2017, www.wada-ama.org/en/what-we-do.

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