Health: Why Athletes Get More Colds
Health: Why Athletes Get More Colds

Health: Why Athletes Get More Colds

Pat Aitken

Does it seem like your athletes get more chest colds and sore throats than the average student?

In fact, there's now scientific evidence to back up your impressions. Athletes are more prone to upper respiratory tract infections than the average person—especially just after they've competed. Endurance athletes and athletes who perform intense interval training are particularly susceptible. And their incidence of illness increases with the amount of training they do in a year.  Here's why.

Immunoglobulin A & Colds
Studies have found that intense endurance exercise and/or interval training often cause a decrease in immunoglobulin A (IgA). IgA is a substance found in saliva and the mucosal covering of the respiratory tract. It has been shown to resist the growth of the micro-organisms that cause upper respiratory tract infections. IgA  can also kill certain viruses and neutralize toxins. As a result it's often considered the first line of defense against respiratory tract infections.

IgA Reduction & Infections
Another study has confirmed the connection between a lower IgA level in saliva and the development of upper respiratory tract infections. In 11 of 12 athletes who contracted an upper respiratory tract infection during the study, the infections occurred within two days after a decrease in IgA.

Recommendations
Athletes really are more susceptible to chest colds and sore throats—especially when performing endurance and/or intense interval training. During cold season, be sure they take extra care in terms of sleep, diet and stress management, especially following competitions. And be sure they wash their hands frequently and  keep their hands away from their face—a common method for infections to spread.

References:
1. Laurel Traeger Mckinnon, Enid Ginn & Gregory Seymour, (U of Queensland, Brisbane), “Temporal relationship between decreased salivary IgA and upper respiratory tract infection in elite athletes.” The Australian Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, December 1993.
2. Claude Moorman III, Donald Kirkendall (PhD), Ruben Echemendia (PhD), Editors, Praeger Handbook of Sports Medicine and Athlete Health, Praeger Publishing, 2010.


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