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Using FeNO testing in sport, a conversation with Professor John Dickinson

A picture of Professor John Dickinson

"We started to look for ways to measure airway inflammation and came across exhaled nitric oxide (FeNO). It was a good fit because it was a simple test to run and we got the results relatively quickly."

In this edition of FeNO Stories, we talk to John Dickinson, Professor of Sport and Exercise Sciences and Head of the Exercise Respiratory Clinic at the University of Kent, with a specialism in assessing exercise respiratory symptoms in athletes. He describes how FeNO testing supports athletes training and competing at the highest level and shares his experience of using FeNO to help uncover asthma-related conditions in unsuspecting players, with some remarkable case-studies.

When and how did you come across FeNO testing?

Professor Dickinson has been using FeNO testing for more than 20 years. He first discovered the use of FeNO when he was helping Team GB prepare for the 2004 Olympic Games. “We were trying to work out ways to get a better idea of the underpinning reasons why athletes might be developing asthma-related conditions, like exercise-induced bronchoconstriction (EIB). We started to look for ways to measure airway inflammation and came across exhaled nitric oxide (FeNO). It was a good fit because it was a simple test to run and we got the results relatively quickly.” Professor Dickinson explains that FeNO provides snapshots that show the healthcare team how well the athletes are responding to treatment, such as inhaled corticosteroids (ICS).

Does FeNO testing fit in well with your respiratory checks for athletes?

Measuring FeNO is really quite straightforward, Professor Dickinson says. “We tend to do it at the start of any respiratory assessment. It takes us about 30 seconds to take a measurement and then you wait about a minute for the finding to come through. If you pop it at the very start of an assessment, before spirometry, you get a good idea of the athlete’s exhaled NO, which helps to build a picture of the airway inflammation within that athlete.”

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