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COLUMBUS, Ohio It is generally widely accepted throughout the medical community prevention can be the best form of health care. This mantra has been the driving force behind Dr. Jonathan Parsons’, a pulmonologist and associate director of Ohio State University Medical Center’s Asthma Center, recent study on college programs’ practice standards for managing asthma among their athletes. The study is the lead report in the April issue of the American College of Sport’s Medicine’s Journal, Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.

Parsons was a guest on ESPN 1050 WAMN Bluefield (Bluefield, W.Va.) May 4 to discuss his findings in the study. Dr. Parsons and the research group emailed web surveys to athletic trainers from NCAA Division I, II and III programs to assess their protocol when managing asthma among student-athletes. About 550 athletic trainers responded.

Parsons, along with Ohio State athletics department staff doctors, Christopher Kaeding and Thomas Best, found about 40 percent of the 550 athletic trainers who responded were not mandated to have rescue inhalers at contests. 

Previous studies have found asthma is much more common in athletes than in the general population, thus the need for what Parsons calls “simple steps” to ensure proper care.

“Thankfully, most of the issues relate to impairment of performance, shortness of breath during exercise with few adverse outcomes. But they do occur,” Parsons said.

Parsons presented the data at the coaches’ association conference and hopes the NCAA will release a statement about the findings within the year.

Most of the protocols athletic trainers follow come from recommendations from either the National Institutes of Health or the National Athletic Trainers Association. Therefore, programs will not suffer a penalty from the NCAA if they do not follow guidelines from the NIOH or NATA.

In Parsons’ call to action, he, in conjunction with the NIOH and NATA, recommends programs begin with three steps:
1. Have rescue inhalers available at practices and competitions
2. Perform diagnostic testing on student-athletes, especially if asthma is suspected
3. Have a specialist, such as pulmonologist or allergist, on staff

The Ohio State Sports Medicine Center follows the three main recommendations. Additionally, Ohio State is rolling out a new asthma care plan which will provide individual care plans for each student-athlete as it relates to their return to activity, Janine Oman, Ohio State assistant athletics director for sport performance, said.  

Ultimately, the better care will lead to overall better athletic performance, Parsons said. He also believes programs are “well behind” in asthma management because the vast majority of the public does not tend to view asthma as a major problem. Most student-athletes may view it as a nagging problem that simply causes shortness of breath, which impairs performance.

“This study, hopefully, will open the eyes of administrators as to where money should be allocated within an NCAA program to maybe augment their (student-athletes) care,” Parsons said.” That’s the ultimate goal, to raise awareness.”