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Lack of asthma testing could risk the careers of young footballers

Young footballers

Teenagers who play in elite youth football leagues could be jeopardising their health and sporting potential because they aren't getting tested for asthma early in their career, suggests Brunel University London exercise and respiratory physiologist, Dr Pascale Kippelen.

Athletes are constantly pushing themselves to the limit, which increases demand and stress on their lungs. In conjunction with breathing of pollutants and allergens at higher rates, this increases their risk for asthma.

Dr Kippelen said: “Team GB athletes and professional senior football players are usually tested for asthma, so why don’t we do this with younger players? There is an alarming rate of undiagnosed asthma in youth football players, which can cut short their careers."

Undiagnosed and poorly controlled asthma often leads to respiratory symptoms, such as coughing, wheezing, a shortness of breath and tightness in the chest, during heavy exercise, making it hard for those athletes to keep up with their ‘healthy’ peers.

If the condition is left untreated, the inflammation may grow in the air passages and cause permanent damages to the lungs.

Dr Kippelen added: "This highlights the need for better asthma education and screening programmes in football academies.  Football clubs are keen to test their players but, unfortunately for some clubs, lack of funding gets in the way of delivering good medical care to the players."

Watford FC has recognised the importance of early and routine asthma testing for its Academy players, and has been part of Dr Kippelen's UEFA-funded research.

Rob Sharps, Head of Academy Medical Department at Watford and Peter Sharp, Head of Academy Sports Science and Strength and Conditioning said: “Tests have revealed previously undiagnosed players who did in fact have asthma; consequently, those players were prescribed correct medication. On the other hand, some of our known asthma sufferers were revealed to be on inappropriate medication.

"The optimisation of medication has led to increased perception of general wellbeing and also contributed to affected players being able to maximise their physical potential due to optimal control of symptoms. We strongly believe that asthma testing should be integral within the battery of health tests for players and, to this end, we are currently exploring options to screen our players as standard procedure.”

Dr Kippelen concluded: “All that’s needed are regular lung function checks, which would take about an hour per athlete every two to three years, and would cost less than £200 per athlete. This is a small investment for the safe development of tomorrow’s star players; it would help to identify those players at risk of asthma, enabling early and appropriate treatment.”