Earlier this week I got a chance to sit down with my Pulmonologists to discuss the problem Ive been having with these acute flare-ups that seem to develop a couple hours after doing my longer walks. (Sorry, this post has a lot of medical respiratory jargon in it, but I couldn’t find a way around it)
The thing that seems to perplex everyone the most , is why the delay in onset of symptoms? Why are these exacerbations occurring several hours AFTER the exercise event. These types of flare-ups seem to be more characteristic of an allergic response than exercise induced asthma. Made even more baffling when you consider the reason I walk along the waterfront in the first place, is to avoid the inland landscape that I’m definitely allergic to.
One of the theories being floated, is that I’m not getting the appropriate anticholinergic response or coverage I should be getting from all the Atrovent I take ( Atrovent works differently then Albuterol). They think it’s possible that I’m either immune to, or that the effect of the drug is wearing off long before I finish these longer walks. A possible explanation as to why my asthma symptoms don’t surface during the walk itself , is because vigorous exercise triggers what is known as a “sympathetic response” …..the release of bronchodialator type chemicals into the blood stream that actually helps dilate the airways in asthmatics. When the exercise seizes, so does this bronchodialating effect, and all of a sudden…I have a problem breathing. (You’d think it would be the other way around.)
To test some of these theories, they’re actually going to devise a special exercise stress test to see whats going on with my lungs in real time AFTER I finish a long walk . I’ve done several exercise tests in the past , on a bike in the lab, but because I can walk such far distances without a problem, they have never been able to induce an asthmatic response in the time allowed . For this new experiment, I’m actually going walk 15 miles along my normal route on the San Francisco waterfront ( including crossing the Golden Gate bridge) and will end the walk at the doors of the UCSF airway research clinic.
As soon as I walk through those doors, their going to do a series of pulmonary function tests spaced over several hours, in hopes that they can catch any delayed symptoms or exacerbation that might occur and If my peak flows bottom out, at least I’ll be in the right place.
They haven’t told me yet, what they hope to achieve with the data they collect , other than possibly increasing my daily doses of Atrovent, but I think this will be a worth while experiment and I appreciate all the effort that my doctors and the researchers at UCSF are putting forth in trying to solve this problem.
You know , despite all the incredible things Ive accomplished through fitness and exercise, no one has ever never been able to solve the mystery as to why I sometimes get critically ill after walking. What causes it , what are the triggers, why does it happen?
Five years ago , the answer to that question would have been ” You’re crazy for doing what you’re doing…or…You’re disease is too advance… or… You’re over doing it! ” and the recommendation would have been…” Stop training for marathons” .
Well, times have sure changed. I think through all my achievements and of proving people wrong time and time again, that Ive actually gained the respect of these scientists. Now instead of telling me to stop doing marathons, they’re actually encouraging me!
One of the biggest reasons people with severe asthma or chronic lung disease don’t exercise in the first place, is for fear that they will become even more short of breath. The truth is, if you don’t exercise regularly, you risk becoming so de-conditioned that it actually gets harder to breath. Hopefully, small experiments like this will shed some light on possible solutions.
Because I’m in the middle of training for the next marathon, we’re trying to work out the logistics and the best day in which to schedule the test. I’ll be sure to post more about this experiment in the coming weeks.
Here are just a few of the wonderful people who take care of me on a regular basis and who are involved in cutting edge asthma research: