The English Institute of Sport (EIS), in collaboration with the
Institute of Sport Exercise & Health (ISEH), Royal Brompton &
Harefield NHS Foundation Trust and Imperial College London are embarking
on a project aimed at optimising respiratory health in a large cohort
of elite athletes known to be susceptible to respiratory illness.
The collaborative project is one of several EIS Athlete Respiratory
Health initiatives aimed at reducing the impact of respiratory illness
on training and competition availability. The results are likely to have
wider public application with respiratory illness being a major
economic and healthcare concern in the UK.
The project will evaluate and support improved care in the
prevention, detection and diagnosis of respiratory illness in over a
hundred athletes identified as being susceptible to respiratory illness
from a cross-section of Olympic and Paralympic sports.
Dr James Hull, consultant respiratory physician at Royal Brompton
Hospital and Imperial College London, and an expert in athlete
respiratory health, said: “Respiratory illness is the most
prevalent health issue in athletes. This project offers a great
opportunity for us to really understand this area properly, to help
athletes remain fully available for training and competition.
“We plan to work with the EIS to apply the world-leading clinical and
research expertise at Royal Brompton & Harefield NHS Foundation
Trust and the National Heart and Lung Institute to inform best care for
athletes, by identifying and supporting the application of
state-of-the-art assessment and treatments.”
From June 2018, identified athletes will undergo comprehensive
respiratory health risk factor profiling at EIS sites across England
that includes tests of their breathing function, immune and allergy
status, respiratory tract bacterial profile, medication use and illness
history. The project team will work with World Class Programme staff so
that the athletes receive best practice advice in how to prevent and
manage respiratory illness.
According to EIS data, respiratory illness is the largest athlete
health problem within the UK High Performance System. Symptoms
associated with respiratory infection (such as headache, persistent
cough, sore throats and nasal discharge) and asthma (that can result in
breathing difficulty) are very common in international athletes and can
have a big impact on training capacity and championship performance.
In the two-year period to July 20 2017, there were 630 respiratory
illnesses recorded in 402 athletes, with an average of nine days of
restricted training per occurrence, totalling around 5,800 days or
nearly 16 years of training days impacted.
Over 30% of the affected athletes had repeated occurrences in the
two-year period with the diagnosis of upper respiratory tract infection
(URTI e.g. sinusitis, laryngitis and the common cold) accounting for 85%
of respiratory illness occurrences, followed by asthma with 11%.
It is also likely that under-reporting and self-managing of
respiratory illness means that the rate and impact of respiratory
illnesses is likely to be higher still.
The EIS Athlete Health Team will lead the project in conjunction with
Dr James Hull and Dr Mike Loosemore, EIS Sports Physician and Lead
Consultant in Sport and Exercise Medicine at the ISEH. The project team
will work closely with Royal Brompton Hospital (the UK’s leading
respiratory hospital), Imperial’s National Heart and Lung Institute and
medical and sport science practitioners from the EIS and national
Dr Rod Jaques, Director of Medical Services at the EIS, said: “A key
part of our work with sports is to improve the health and wellbeing of
“It is therefore the aim to optimise respiratory health management to
not only cut down on lost training time due to illness, but to improve
the overall health and well-being of athletes.
“The cross collaboration and expertise from different partners is key
to this project’s success. Royal Brompton Hospital is one of the top
institutions for understanding upper and lower respiratory tract
problems in the UK, the data we collect will be vital in progressing our
understanding of athlete respiratory illness and health.”