Study objectives: Diagnosis and medical intervention for exercise-induced bronchospasm (EIB) are often based on self-reported symptoms, without spirometric confirmation. Inspiratory stridor (IS), a symptom of vocal cord dysfunction (VCD), is frequently mistaken for EIB wheeze. Athletes with exercise IS that spontaneously resolves on activity cessation are suspect for VCD and may not have EIB. This study estimated IS prevalence in elite athletes and determined its relationship to EIB.
Subjects/methods: Three hundred seventy athletes (174 female and 196 male subjects) provided a medical history, and underwent spirometry before and after exercise challenge. Exercise challenges were conducted in cold, dry ambient conditions. EIB positive (EIB +) was defined as a ≥ 10% postexercise fall in FEV1. Athletes were monitored for IS during exercise; 78.4% of the athletes in this study (n = 290) were tested on multiple occasions.
Results: EIB was identified in 30% of 370 athletes tested (58 female and 53 male subjects). IS was observed in 5.1% (18 female and 1 male subjects) during exercise and spontaneously resolved in these subjects within 5 min after exercise cessation. Ten IS-positive (IS +) athletes (52.6%) were EIB +, and 8 of these athletes had a previous EIB diagnosis; however, β2-agonist treatment resolved IS in only 2 subjects. Eight of nine IS +/EIB-negative (EIB −) athletes had a previous EIB diagnosis; seven subjects received β2-agonist treatment with no IS resolution. Resting spirometric measurements did not distinguish IS, but postexercise mid-flow (FEF50/FIF50) ratio > 1.5 was more frequent (33%, p < 0.05) among IS + athletes. The FEF50/FIF50 ratio was higher for IS +/EIB + athletes than for IS −/EIB + athletes (1.97 ± 1.69 vs 0.81 ± 0.39, p < 0.05). The postexercise fall in FVC was greater (p < 0.05) for IS +/EIB − athletes (9.2 ± 5.0%) than for IS-negative (IS −) /EIB − athletes (5.3 ± 4.3%). No difference in postexercise FEV1 was identified between IS + and IS − athletes (within EIB + or EIB − groups).
Conclusions: Five percent of athletes were IS +, with EIB comorbidity observed in 53% of these subjects. Misdiagnosis of IS as EIB is common. The lack of a β2-agonist response in combination with postexercise serial spirometry can be useful in excluding solitary IS and confirming EIB diagnosis.