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Chapter Objectives

After reading this chapter, the student will be able to:

  1. Understand the general mechanisms whereby respiratory drugs affect breathing difficulties.

  2. Understand the pathology, signs, and symptoms of asthma.

  3. Understand the different types of asthma and bronchoconstriction.

  4. Understand the general classes of medications used in treating the respiratory conditions most commonly associated with athletic activities.

  5. Understand the difference between medications that promote bronchodilation and those that affect respiratory inflammation.

  6. Understand the different types of drugs used to treat the common cold and allergic conditions.

Chapter Outline

  • Respiration and Ventilation

    • Respiratory System Receptors and Functions

  • Asthma

    • Asthma Treatment Options

    • Commonly Used Drugs for Asthma Control

    • How Asthma Drugs Work

    • Exercise-Induced Bronchoconstriction

    • Adverse Effects of Asthma Medications

  • Allergies

    • Antihistamines

    • Nasal Sprays

  • Coughs and Colds

    • Cough and Cold Medications

    • Adverse Effects of Cold and Allergy Medications

    • What to Tell the Athlete

  • Scenario From the Field

  • Discussion Topics

Athletic trainers and athletes can both benefit from a comprehensive understanding of the medications used to treat conditions affecting the respiratory system. The athletic trainer and, to some extent, the affected athlete need to be aware of drug classes and their actions for a variety of reasons. Some of the drugs discussed in this chapter are banned for use during competition by organizations such as the International Olympic Committee and the National Collegiate Athletic Association. In addition, the athletic trainer will probably have to answer questions, provide suggestions, and dispel myths associated with the pharmacological treatment of conditions such as asthma, allergies, and the common cold. This chapter provides basic information about the chemical receptors activated by drugs used to treat respiratory conditions. Additionally, it discusses many of the drugs used for the treatment of specific conditions affecting the respiratory system.


The human respiratory system has two primary functions: cellular respiration and ventilation. Cellular respiration refers to the exchange of gases at the cellular level within the alveoli in the lungs. Ventilation refers to the movement of air in and out of the lungs through a series of air passages. The structures of the respiratory system involved in ventilation include the nose, mouth, trachea, bronchial tree, and diaphragm.

The upper portion of the respiratory system is mainly responsible for conditioning inhaled air from the environment. To maintain normal ventilatory function, it is critical that the upper respiratory system adjust the temperature and humidify the inhaled air, as well as provide filtration of the contaminants in the ambient air. These functions ensure that inhaled particulate matter from the environment does not pass through and damage the lungs. Filtration of inspired air occurs mainly as the inhaled air passes over the mucus-lined epithelium of the trachea. The branches of the bronchial tree are lined with smooth muscle, which adjusts the constriction and dilation of the airways in response to the needs of the body. For example, if exercise ...

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