INDIANAPOLIS — So many people -- both recreational athletes and professionals -- are being diagnosed with exercise-induced asthma that the nation's largest group of athletic trainers has drawn up its first guidelines for dealing with the condition.
Asthma guidelines from the National Athletic Trainers' Assn., released last week during its annual meeting in Indianapolis, are aimed at familiarizing trainers, health professionals, parents and coaches with asthma's symptoms and treatments.
Asthma sufferers face shortness of breath during and after workouts, which can trigger an acute narrowing of the airways, making breathing difficult and causing chest tightness.
If untreated, it can be fatal, although deaths are not common.
The Dallas-based trainers association's guidelines include more than 20 points showing how to recognize asthma symptoms and help athletes manage asthma, such as avoiding allergens by practicing indoors.
The detailed recommendations are scheduled to be published in September in the Journal of Athletic Training.
"Trainers are in a unique position to spot athletes' breathing difficulties," said Michael Miller, director of graduate athletic training at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Mich. "They're the people who are in the training rooms, the practices and on the game fields."
About 20 million Americans suffer from asthma, with about 5,000 deaths annually, according to the American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology. However, the academy estimates up to 38 million Americans suffer from symptoms of exercise-induced asthma.
Miller, who led the task force that developed the guidelines after studying scientific literature and consulting experts, said that although overall rates of asthma had more than doubled since 1980, doctors weren't sure why.
Dr. Christopher C. Randolph, a Waterbury, Conn., allergist who is the former chairman of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology's sports medicine committee, said an estimated 30% to 40% of Olympic athletes either had asthma or symptoms consistent with asthma.
He said the reason was a matter of simple mechanics: "They're inhaling much more than the rest of us."