Lung function and dust in climbing halls

There seems to be a negative effect on athletic aerobic performance correlated with dust levels in climbing gyms. This study investigated the issue after asthmatics reported worsening of symptoms during or after climbing.

Immediate effects on lung function were observed during competitions and sub-acute effects were observed one day after competitions. This confirms what many of us in the climbing world already suspected: chalk dust has an effect on athletic performance.

During COVID I have personally experienced that reduced lung function caused by wearing a mask while climbing DOES have an impact on my climbing performance. We can see a similar effect in action here with dust. More dust in the air means reduced lung capacity and less performance.

What does this mean for climbers? A good start is obviously to use less chalk, apply it consciously or switch to liquid chalk. Maybe you also want to favour frequenting gyms with modern air filtration systems. This post is part of a series where we highlight the existing research around chalk.

Abstract, emphasis ours: In climbing halls, high levels of dust are found because magnesia powder is used to dry hands. Concerns have been raised about possible health effects after reports from asthmatics experiencing worsening of symptoms while or after climbing. We investigated acute and sub-acute effects of climbing in dusty halls on lung function in two pilot studies. The first study examined 109 climbers before and after a climbing activity that lasted at least 1 h. In the second study, 25 climbers from different age classes participated in a 2-day climbing competition. Of these, 24 agreed to take part in our investigation, but only 22 provided valid lung function tests on both days. The climbers underwent lung function tests before the first round of the competition (in the morning), after the second round approximately 3 h later and in the morning of the second day before the competition started again. In the first study, we found acute effects, a decline in lung function immediately after the exposure, likely due to protective reflexes of the bronchial muscles and stronger declines in persons with higher exhaled nitric oxide (NO) pre-climbing. In the second study, we also expected sub-acute effects on the next day due to inflammation. On the first day of the competition (second study), dust levels at a central monitor increased over time in a linear manner. Most of the dust was in the size range between 2.5 and 10 μm and dust levels of particulate matter (PM10) reached 0.5 mg/m3. There was a decline in lung function over 24 h in persons with higher exhaled NO levels pre-exposure. All spirometric parameters were affected though the effects were not statistically significant in all cases. Younger age classes started earlier in the morning. Because of the increasing trend in dust levels we expected stronger effects with higher numbers but for the acute effects the reverse was true, possibly because younger climbers use magnesia more or with less experience thus causing higher individual exposure. No differences by age or by time of the first climb were observed for the 24-h lung function change.

PubMed Link Photo by Robina Weermeijer