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Apolo Ohno Retires: What Is EIB? Symptoms And Treatment Of Exercise-Induced Bronchospasm

By Jason Van Hoven - Posted: 04/25/13 12:37PM EDT
Apolo Ohno

With Ohno having effectively retired from speedskating, he said that he was comfortable opening up about the EIB, which he said had no impact on his performance once he was diagnosed in 2000 and he began treatment. (Photo: Reuters)

Apolo Ohno has not only recently kept his retirement from short-track speed skating to himself, but also the fact that he had been receiving treatment for a respiratory condition known as exercise-induced bronchospasm or EIB, according to reports.

Ohno, who told reporters on Wednesday that he won't be competing in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, but will rather be there working as a correspondent for NBC, opened up more fully about EIB, something that he admitted battling throughout most of his skating career. As Reuters noted, he was obliged under Olympic doping regulations to disclose medications he was using and that he was suffering from EIB, but he didn't start to speak about the condition publicly until January when he agreed to join forces with Teva Respiratory to form EIB All-Stars, a national awareness campaign.

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"I didn't speak about it all," said Ohno of the time before January. "First of all, I didn't know many people had exercise-induced bronchospasm. And secondly, I wasn't comfortable at the time talking about it."

"As an athlete you're taught to show no weaknesses ... like there's an invisible shield around you."

Yahoo reported in January that the 30-year-old Ohno actually started suffering from EIB when he was a teenager, but didn't get diagnosed until 2000 when doctors ran a series of respiratory tests. That's when things changed for the eight-time Olympic medalist.

"I didn't know what it was or that I had it, so to me it was a big surprise," he said. "But, it was also a pleasant surprise because the doctor said as a result of having EIB, I wasn't performing to my potential. That EIB was inhibiting me and I was only performing at a slight percent of my potential as an athlete."

Ohno's diagnosis and subsequent individualized treatment plan that included an inhaler produced immediate results.

"I had one of the most severe cases of EIB but immediately after I began treatment, I noticed a huge difference in my performance and I felt like I was competing on a level playing field," Ohno said.

Indeed, Ohno did, as he became the most decorated U.S. Winter Olympian with eight medals. If he were to compete for the U.S. in Sochi, he would have had a chance to catch all-time Winter Olympic medal leader, Norwegian cross-country skiing legend Bjorn Daehlie. As Sports Illustrated pointed out, Daehlie, who has 12 medals, was implicated by a Swedish TV program in February that he doped during the 1990s but denied the claims on national TV news in Norway.

The most decorated active U.S. Winter Olympian is Bode Miller, who has five medals.

So, what is exercise-induced bronchospasm, what are the symptoms and how can it be treated? Per the EIB All-Stars and American Academy of Family Physicians websites:

Exercise-Induced Bronchospasm

EIB, a common condition affecting an estimated 30 million people in the United States, is a temporary narrowing of the airways during or after exercise that can make it difficult to breathe. It can be triggered by breathing in air that is cooler and drier than the air in your lungs and can affect people who have a range of fitness levels, from casual participants to elite athletes. EIB is especially common in people who have asthma -- 80-90 percent of patients with asthma also have EIB -- but you don't have to have asthma to have EIB.

Symptoms

While symptoms are similar, EIB is different from asthma. EIB symptoms are set off only by exercise or aerobic activity like jogging or playing sports.

They include: shortness of breath, chest tightness, trouble getting a deep breath, wheezing or noisy breathing, coughing and decreased exercise endurance.

Treatment

Inhalers filled with anti-inflammatory medicines as well as measures that include increased physical conditioning, warm-up exercises, covering the mouth and nose and a change in diet can treat EIB.

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