Beckham's asthma gives inspiration

Fellow sufferers provided with hope by former England captain's successful career

One of the country's top asthma experts insists that anyone suffering from the condition can still make it to the top in sport.

Dr Mike Thomas, chief medical advisor to Asthma UK, believes David Beckham can provide inspiration for youngsters wishing to reach the top in their chosen activity. Asthma is a serious condition for many people and can be life threatening, but for Beckham it has not been a barrier to success.

Beckham was pictured using an inhaler during LA Galaxy's MLS Cup final defeat to Real Salt Lake on Sunday and his agent Simon Oliveira said: "David has suffered with this since he was a young boy but it has obviously had no effect on his performance.

Thomas said: "There are more than five million people with asthma in the UK and 76 per cent of people with asthma tell us that exercise is a trigger for their condition," Thomas said.

"Asthma is particularly common among elite sports people like Paul Scholes and Paula Radcliffe, who both suffer with the condition, proof that asthma need not stop you competing at the highest level."

The Scotland rugby union international Scott MacLeod also maintains that having asthma does not need to curtail sporting ambitions.

MacLeod was cleared by an independent judicial committee last year to continue to play the game after he was found to have inadvertently taken a prohibited asthma medication without the required permission.

Gordon Brown, Asthma UK Scotland's public affairs and communications manager, commented: "What Scott's case has done is show that if you learn to manage your asthma and take the correct medication, there's no reason why you shouldn't play sport at the highest possible level.

"Of course, not everyone has the same severity of asthma but the basic message remains the same; for most people, asthma should not stop you doing any type of exercise as long as you consult your doctor regularly, keep your asthma well controlled and take the correct medicine."

Four years ago marathon runner Radcliffe and Manchester United's Scholes were featured in an Asthma UK campaign to encourage children to get the most out of exercise.

Scholes, diagnosed with the condition at the age of 21, has helped raise thousands of pounds for the National Asthma Campaign during his career. He makes regular use of an inhaler and is now never troubled by the condition.

"My asthma is well controlled so it has never affected my performance," Scholes said. "I always warm up before a game. I also take my medication before a match and again at half-time if necessary."

Warming up, stretching or slow running also helps. Radcliffe's warm-up sessions last about 45 minutes and she always undertakes a gentle 15-minute jog before a race. She said: "I don't really think asthma has affected my career – if anything it's made me more determined to be successful and reach my maximum potential."

Other athletes to have suffered from the condition include swimmer Mark Spitz, who scooped nine gold medals at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, Chelsea's Frank Lampard, swimmer Rebecca Adlington, former Olympic swimmer Karen Pickering and cricketers Ian Botham and Darren Gough.

Endurance sports are most likely to cause problems for people with exercise-induced asthma, including long-distance running, cross-country skiing and cycling. Symptoms of exercise-induced asthma include coughing, wheezing, tightness in the chest and difficulty in breathing.

With proper training and medication, people with exercise-induced asthma can take part in any sport they choose. A total of 20 per cent of the British Olympic squad in 2004 had asthma, while there has been an increase in the number and percentage of athletes competing in Olympic Games last year notifying the use of Beta-2-Agonists (which relax and open up the airways), from 1.7 per cent at Los Angeles (1984) to 5.5 per cent at Sydney (2000).

A diagnosis of asthma cannot be made in elite athletes on the basis of respiratory symptoms alone and spirometric evidence which determines the capacity of the lungs is needed to confirm the diagnosis.Inhaled steroids are the most effective drugs for long-term control of asthma and prevention of exercise-induced asthma.Exercise induced asthma is actually quite rare with only 10-11 per cent of people with asthma affected. Swimming is a very asthma-friendly sport. It helps control breathing and the warm, moist air creates an ideal environment.

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