Asthma is a chronic inflammatory disease affecting the airways, which leads to airways hyperresponsiveness and ultimately affects proper airflow. The overall effect of the disease decreases the amounts of oxygen needed for adequate respiration. Airflow obstruction often corrects spontaneously or with treatment. Asthma attacks are episodes of progressive increase of symptoms. Asthma can affect anyone, however predisposing and risk factors exist in varying capacities. Asthma in and of itself is not deadly, however, inappropriate management and treatment could expose an athlete to death.
Sudden death from asthma is one of the primary causes of sudden death in sport. It can occur in recreational athletes, professional athletes, and any level in between. A study of 7 years of asthma deaths revealed 61 asthma deaths from 1993-2000. Sixty-nine percent of deaths were male; white athletes deaths outnumbered black athlete deaths 2:1. Fifty-seven percent of deaths were in competitive athletes, while 43% were in recreational athletes. In competitive athletes, 51% of fatal events occurred during their organized sport; 14 during a training session and 4 during a game situation. For all athletes, basketball and track were the two most common sports that had a fatal event. Importantly, 90% of athletes who died had a history of asthma, so the condition was known, but the death still occurred.