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C-c-c-cold Olympic Athletes and Asthma

I’m watching the Olympics from my warm, cozy home and am wondering….. how can the Olympic athletes compete in the freezing cold temperatures in South Korea?!

I know it’s the Winter Olympics and yes, it’s obviously going to be cold. But it’s MUCH colder than many people were anticipating.

How cold is it in South Korea during the Olympics? Reuters reports that temperatures are:
“Plunging to minus 20 degrees Celsius (-4 Fahrenheit) at night and rarely breaking above freezing in the day, the temperatures have put Pyeongchang on track to be the coldest Olympics in decades and present athletes with a very different set of conditions from the sunshine and slushy snow of Sochi four years ago.

It’s so cold that the normal 4-hour ‘parade of nations’ that starts off the Opening Ceremonies of the Olympics was cut to 2 hours. And many people were turning in their tickets for refunds because they didn’t want to sit outside in those crazy cold temperatures.

It’s so cold that cellphones and TV camera batteries are useless just minutes after being exposed to the cold! So cold that the US Olympic team has special coats designed by Ralph Lauren with heaters built into the coats! 

So if the cold is affecting electronics like that, how is it affecting the athletes? Well, the cross country team from Norway has moved their training indoors, to protect the athlete’s airways from being damaged by cold air.

Did you know that breathing in cold air can also trigger an asthma attack? Like many other asthma triggers, our bodies can have a tough time with things that other people without asthma can be around. Cold air is one of those things that can trigger an asthma attack for some people. Since everyone with asthma is different, what triggers an asthma attack for me may not trigger an asthma attack for you or vice versa.

As I am watching the Olympics, I wonder how many of the athletes have asthma and are competing out in those cold temperatures? Well, like the general population, 8% of Olympic athletes have asthma, making it the most common chronic disease among the athletes.

In fact, there was such an increase in the number of Olympic athletes with asthma during the years 1996 and 2000, that the International Olympic Committee (IOC), is making athletes provide proof that they have asthma to “safeguard the health of Olympic athletes” (and probably to make sure no one is hassling them when they need to use their Albuterol inhaler or have a treatment with their nebulizer.  )

So, what can the athletes with asthma do to protect themselves while exercising in cold temperatures? The American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology (AAAAI) says to make sure you have a treatment plan spelled out with your doctor. That can mean treating your asthma with a daily controller inhaler and pre-medicating with Albuterol before exercise. (Since Albuterol can affect your heart, it may not be right for everyone to pre-treat with Albuterol before exercise – so check with your doctor!)

It can also help to have a good warm up and cool down, and some people like to wear a scarf or mask over their mouth while exercising.

So, as I watch the Olympic athletes compete in South Korea, I am going to do so from my nice, warm cozy house – while they are out in the cold.

I hope they get lots of hot chocolate after they compete!

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