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Feature:
Breathing Easier

Apolo Ohno: Breathing Easier

Apolo Ohno

Apolo Ohno
Photo courtesy of Mat McCabe Photography

Apolo Ohno

Apolo Ohno
Photo courtesy of Mat McCabe Photography

Combatting asthma and related conditions

Apolo Anton Ohno, winner of eight Winter Olympic medals for short-track speedskating, had to first overcome exercise-induced bronchospasm (EIB). The condition is a temporary narrowing of the airways during or after exercise. Although the symptoms of EIB are similar to asthma, they are different. An estimated 30 million people in the U.S. have EIB. A total of 80-to-90 percent of patients with asthma also have EIB. But you don't have to have asthma to have EIB. Ohno was diagnosed with EIB as an adolescent. The treatment allowed him to compete at the highest levels. Today, he is a commentator for NBC Sports and competed successfully on Dancing with the Stars.

Can you describe the symptoms you had before being diagnosed with EIB? Do you remember when you started having symptoms?

During my training, I started experiencing decreased exercise endurance, trouble breathing, and coughing. These symptoms affected my ability to compete at my ultimate athletic level. I thought it was just a byproduct of the work I was putting in; it didn't cross my mind that I could have a respiratory condition.

You were diagnosed with EIB in 2000. Can you tell us about how that happened?

I'd have to spend an hour warming up, and even then, I continued to feel fatigued throughout my training sessions. My symptoms were really bad—sometimes I would end up coughing for hours after my time trials, I just couldn't get rid of it. I thought it was just a result of intense training. My symptoms were really impacting my performance, so I went to see my doctor where I was ultimately diagnosed with EIB.

What were your first thoughts upon getting the diagnosis?

It was such a relief to know what was wrong. After I was diagnosed and began treatment, I noticed a huge difference in my performance on the ice. I could finally reach my full potential as an athlete and actually won almost all of my races that year because my symptoms weren't limiting my performance anymore.

How do you manage your EIB?

During my initial diagnosis, my doctor worked with me to determine a treatment plan that works for me. Now I make sure to visit my doctor regularly to ensure my symptoms are being properly managed. I'm hoping that by sharing my experience with EIB, others will learn the importance of talking to a doctor and managing their symptoms.

What is the message you'd most like to send to people who have been diagnosed with EIB or may have its symptoms? Do you have a special message to kids and their parents?

Often times, people think their symptoms occur because they are out of shape or not pushing themselves hard enough in their workouts. Sometimes people even think their symptoms are normal and just something they have to live with. I got involved with EIB All Stars to help raise awareness about EIB and educate the public about the importance of managing these symptoms. There is a serious need to elevate the discussion between patients and doctors about respiratory conditions.

You just recently announced your retirement from competitive speed skating. What does the future hold for Apolo Ohno?

Even though I'm no longer skating competitively, I'm still staying active every day and keeping in shape. I'm really excited that I'll be a commentator for the Winter Olympics next year for NBC. I also started hosting a new version of Minute to Win It on the Game Show Network this past June.

Fall 2013 Issue: Volume 8 Number 3 Page 10-11