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London pollution could affect Olympic athletes’ performance
Almost a quarter of a million people will be arriving at London's Heathrow airport as athletes and fans arrive for the Games.
July 23rd, 2012
07:00 AM ET

London pollution could affect Olympic athletes’ performance

Less than a week from the opening ceremonies, allergists are warning that some Olympic athletes may suffer breathing problems due to air pollution in London.

The amount of nitrogen dioxide in London is comparable to the level of nitrogen dioxide in Beijing before Beijing banned half of the cars in preparation for the Games, and London has done little to control traffic, says Dr. William Silvers, an allergy specialist and a member of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI).

Demanding workouts in the polluted air could spell trouble particularly for those athletes that already have conditions such as asthma or exercise-induced bronchoconstriction (EIB), a narrowing of the airways that makes it hard to move air out of the lungs, according to AAAAI.

Silvers believes that the pollution levels are an underplayed aspect of the Olympics, and more needs to be done in order to address the potential health problems for athletes.

Elite athletes have an increased incidence of EIB, says Dr. Silvers.  The AAAAI estimates 1 in 5 top athletes and 1 in 6 of all Olympic athletes have to deal with EIB.  

People with EIB experience coughing, wheezing, chest tightness, and shortness of breath during or after exercise but are otherwise healthy.  Pollution can worsen these symptoms, which could adversely affect the athletes’ performance.   Silvers suggests it could mean the difference between first and second place for Olympic athletes with breathing problems. Marathon runners could be particularly affected by this, according to Silvers.

“Up to half of Olympic athletes with EIB were previously undiagnosed," says Silvers.  He suggests it's therefore important that athletes are evaluated before their competitions begin.


soundoff (12 Responses)
  1. Paula Dean

    Really? If they could perform in Beijing, they can perform in London.

    July 23, 2012 at 11:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Reading is Essential

    "The amount of nitrogen dioxide in London is comparable to the level of nitrogen dioxide in Beijing BEFORE Beijing banned half of the cars in preparation for the Games..."

    If London took the same steps as Beijing did then your statement would be true Paula Dean. But, per the article, they haven't.

    July 23, 2012 at 13:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. cachead

    Already excuses are being made for the London Olympics. What a horrible city to hold these fake games.

    July 23, 2012 at 14:38 | Report abuse | Reply
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    July 23, 2012 at 19:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. jane

    Games are the poor performing for the wealthy! Wealthy people don't care about pollution. Its the "bain of the average folk".

    July 23, 2012 at 19:41 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Really?!

      Jane – please, what a draconian perspective! The games is televised to millions around the world, and I certainly am not wealthy and I thoroughly enjoy it. And a lot of the athletes are very wealthy – Rodger Federer to start with. You are quite the cynic!

      July 23, 2012 at 22:24 | Report abuse |
  6. Paul Y

    Well Beijing is polluted cuz China is like the manufacturing center of the world and the city has 20 million ppl and 6 million cars, lower emission standard and has chronic sand storm problem...

    What's London's excuse?

    July 23, 2012 at 22:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Fabian

    the

    July 23, 2012 at 22:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Denny

    Oh, I thought that western pollution is harmless ...

    July 23, 2012 at 22:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Cwhund

    Really. The pollution can make the difference between a gold and silver. I think an athlete with asthma or allergies knows what they have and deals with it.

    July 24, 2012 at 08:53 | Report abuse | Reply
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.