It is well established that various medical conditions and illnesses, especially respiratory tract symptoms, affect elite athletes while they are travelling to and competing in international competitions. 1-3 These medical conditions most commonly affect the ear, nose and throat, respiratory tract, dermatological system, central nervous system and gastrointestinal system. 1-4 Elite athletes are not immune to any of the disease processes that may affect the general population. A descriptive epidemiological study of college athletes found that 21% of the consultations were for problems involving the respiratory tract. 5 There is also some evidence suggesting that the risk of contracting certain medical conditions such as upper respiratory tract (URT) infections may be increased due to regular strenuous activity and that training and competition load is related to the risk of acute illness. 6
In studies of football players during tournaments, the respiratory tract is the most common system affected by illness during the World Cup and the Confederations Cup. 7,8 At the 2009 Confederations Cup, the overall incidence of illness was 16.9 per 1,000 player days, with the respiratory tract (RT) accounting for over 50% of all illnesses (ear, nose and throat = 37%; other respiratory tract = 20%). 7 Similarly, during the 2010 FIFA World Cup, respiratory illness was the most common medical condition affecting football players (40% of all illnesses), and this is a similar finding in many studies across other sporting disciplines. 8-14
In this module, we will discuss some of the most common respiratory conditions seen in football players.