Speed Skater and Dancer Apolo Ohno: Living With A Respiratory Disorder

There's no stopping Apolo Anton Ohno. At the age of 14, Ohno was the youngest-ever U.S. short-track speed skating national champion and went on to become a 12-time national champion before transitioning from athlete to another career that required peak physical shape: performing on "Dancing with the Stars," the ABC reality show. (He and his dance partner, Julianne Hough, won Season 4 of the hit show.)

Yet Ohno—the most decorated Winter Olympian in history—suffers from a chronic respiratory condition that easily could have derailed his impressive career. Exercise-Induced Bronchospasm (EID), a temporary narrowing of the airways during or after exercise that causes breathing difficulties, may be triggered when an individual inhales air that's drier and cooler than the air in the lungs. Sufferers report shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing, chest tightness, and decreased exercise endurance.

Treating EIB

It's estimated that between 80 and 90 percent of individuals who have asthma have EIB, a treatable condition that affects more than 30 million people in the United States. Inhalers with anti-inflammatory medication, such as albuterol, are usually the first step in managing the problem. Teva Respiratory, a global pharmaceutical company, makes several treatment options for EIB along with medications for seasonal and year-round nasal allergies as well as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

For Ohno, who was diagnosed in 2000 with EIB, breathing problems during workouts caused him a lot of distress. "I saw how much it was impacting my performance, how I trained and how I skated," Ohno recalls. "I would be coughing and having difficulty breathing. Without the proper diagnosis and treatment, I would not have been able to perform."

To treat EIB, Ohno uses an inhaler. "I take it before I workout and before I train," he says. "I'm on the ice every morning! I still need to train and be in good shape—it's my life." Now launching a successful career in broadcasting, Ohno was an on-air reporter for NBC during the 2012 Olympic Games in London and he now is hosting the game show "Minute to Win It". Ohno also has plans to be in Sochi, Russia, for the 2014 Olympics as a correspondent for NBC. He's also a professional speaker and the author of the best-selling book, Zero Regrets.

Ohno and Teva Respiratory announced the winner of the EIB All Stars Contest, a campaign that highlights the accomplishments of individuals with EIB. Ohno notes that EIB is a much-underdiagnosed condition, one that can cause debilitating symptoms in affected individuals. Treatment, he says, is not just for professional dancers and athletes.

"It's for everyone who is interested in being more fit," he says. "The last thing you want is to not be able to do what you want to do, whether it's playing with your kids or playing a sport." The 30-year-old superstar encourages anyone with symptoms to see a physician right away. He adds: "Once you get treatment, you will be able to pursue all the activities you want to."

Karen Calhoun, MD, reviewed this article.