As the Olympics draw to a close today, many asthmatic athletes head home after facing special challenges because of the poor air quality in Beijing.
Up to 20 percent of elite athletes have some type of asthma, depending on the sport, according to the The Sacramento Bee.
With their lungs already prone spasm and irritation, asthmatic athletes had to perform at their peak in air pollution well outside international health guidelines. Haile Gebrselassie, a well-known runner from Ethiopia, decided not to compete in the marathon because the pollution could hurt his health.
Many doctors think that elite athletes who participate in endurance sports are more prone to develop asthma because they breathe more deeply when exercising – and they’re more likely to breathe through their mouths, bypassing the natural air filter system in the nose. When you combine deep breathing for long periods of time with an environmental irritant, asthma can easily develop.
The environmental irritants vary from sport to sport: “For skiers, it’s the cold air which gives increased risk,” said Dr. Kai-Hakon Carlsen of Norway. “For swimmers, it’s most probably the chlorine products in swimming pools. For marathon runners, it’s pollution from cars – it’s in big cities that most marathons take place. For cyclists it’s the same.”
U.S. runner Kara Goucher wrote on her blog: “I have to say that the pollution and smog in Beijing is much, much worse than I imagined. It’s a bit eerie how the sun never comes out all day. If you are walking around the village and you look ahead, you can’t see all of the buildings. The pollution creates a fog that clouds over everything. It is unimaginable. I am shocked by how bad it is.”
To help athletes cope with the pollution, Frank Hammes and Kirk Sullivan of IQAir traveled to China to deliver air purifiers for their apartments and training facilities. (See IQAir Provides Clean Air for U.S. Olympic Athletes.) While they were there, Hammes and Sullivan undertook another project: CleanAirApartment.com.
“There has been much in the press about Beijing’s bad outdoor air pollution problems,” said Frank Hammes, president of IQAir. “But in reality the average person spends 90% of their time indoors. It is indoor air that most affects our health. While we can’t do much about outdoor air — we can take control of our indoor environments and make them healthy. That is what we have done here with Clean Air Apartment. We have taken a normal apartment in the world’s most polluted city and turned it into one of the healthiest indoor environment that can be found anywhere in the world.”
“We’re air quality geeks,” admits Sullivan. “We had to keep our project with athletes top secret for more than a year, but now that the games have begun we can finally talk about it. In all of the excitement of the competitions and people winning medals, we didn’t want to lose focus that what we are really about is creating healthy homes. There are hundreds of millions of people around the world with severe allergies, asthma, other respiratory conditions and environmental sensitivities. We are introducing to the world an innovative new kind of air cleaning technology that comprehensively removes indoor airborne irritants like dust, mold, pollen, diesel soot, allergens, even bacteria and viruses at a level never before previously possible in homes. Clean Air Apartment gives us the opportunity to show people that this technology isn’t just for helping athletes win medals — it’s for improving your health and your families health in your home.”