Research helping to identify breathing problems in Parkrunners
Since 2004, Parkrun – timed 5km runs – has become an increasingly popular recreation with nearly 1.5 million people taking part to help improve their fitness.
Now, a new study carried out by Dr Oliver Price from Leeds Beckett has shown that a large proportion of otherwise healthy adults taking part experience breathing difficulties during and following the race.
As part of the study, before the race, all runners undergo lung function testing and are asked about any respiratory symptoms or breathing difficulties that they experience during exercise. Researchers then monitored the runners’ breathing for 15 minutes immediately after their race. Strikingly, they found that almost one third of runners (29%) had a least one audible sign of respiratory dysfunction. Over one hundred adults taking part in Parkrun in Yorkshire and Humber have been evaluated so far.
Dr Price, who is a Senior Lecturer in Exercise Physiology, explained the study findings: “The most common findings were those of ‘inspiratory stridor’ – a high pitched wheeze that occurs when you breathe in – and difficult or laboured breathing. Often people experiencing breathing difficulties during or after sport are diagnosed with exercise-induced asthma – a condition characterised by the narrowing of the lower airways. However, the high pitched stridor we saw frequently in our runners is not typically associated with asthma and is a potential indication that the breathing difficulties and wheeze could be arising from the upper part of the airway.”
Dr James Hull, Consultant Respiratory Physician at the Royal Brompton Hospital in London, has been working with Dr Price. He said: “The findings of the study are in-keeping with previous prevalence estimates of exercise-induced laryngeal obstruction. This is a condition where the larynx (voice box) narrows and restricts air entering the lungs. It is often misdiagnosed as asthma, and those patients are then prescribed medication that they don’t need, and which won’t help them.”
Dr Price concluded: “Clearly this is a small sample size and further research is now needed. While exercising and being temporarily out of breath is beneficial, if you’re struggling to breathe – or have been diagnosed with asthma but are finding that your medication is not helping – it’s definitely worth further investigation.”
Terry Tyrell’s son has been helped by Dr Price’s research. He was initially told by a GP that his son had borderline asthma but he wasn’t convinced that was all it was so contacted Dr Price for help. He said: “I’ve taken the valuable information from Dr Price and the University and taken it my GP and said look there is something there. So with the assistance of the university I’ve got a referral now to the London Brompton to a paediatric specialist and we’re going to look into it further.
“If you don’t know what is happening it affects your child, they become slightly demoralised and they feel that they’re a failure. It’s confusing for a child to think you can’t do certain things and you’re failing, and as a parent it’s extremely worrying because you don’t know how this can affect your child in other ways.”
Dr Price and Dr Hull will present their findings at the British Association of Sport and Medicine Conference over the next two days.