Thursday, July 28, 2016

More on being allergic to summer

Beat's hummingbirds. There's so many that we've been going through 1.5+ liters of sugar water per day.
 The asthma doctor had great reviews and seemed very nice, but I could tell that he wasn't necessarily going to be sympathetic to my cause. He worked through the usual questions, but a slight frown appeared on his face as I explained my "problem."

"I just get winded so easily. Sometimes while walking up my stairs at home, I have to slow because my breathing feels so constricted that I become dizzy. I do twenty-mile runs, feeling like I can barely breathe for most of the time, holding back so I don't have an attack. Yet I don't feel tired or sore after I stop moving, so there's no indication that I'm overdoing it. I use my emergency inhaler at least once for most of my workouts. I think it does help. It was never like this a year and a half ago. Not before I had pneumonia last summer."

"You do twenty-mile runs?" he asked.

"Well, yes," I said. "I just have a lot of trouble with more intense exercise. Even moderate intensity. I really start to feel bad."

I could only guess what the doctor was thinking. Clearly I'm still capable of doing things that 95 percent of the population doesn't do, and that no one really needs to do, so what's the problem? A lung function test showed my lungs are operating at 102 percent of the average for someone my age and weight. A chest X-Ray turned up normal. My resting heart rate is high (78! High 70s are what I've seen a few mornings in a row when I checked first thing. In California, my resting heart rate was always in the high 50s / low 60s.) But my blood pressure is good.

I got the sense that I might get shoed away with only a renewed emergency inhaler prescription, but I pressed for a skin test by expressing interest in starting allergy shots after I return from Europe in September. I had one done last October in California, which was informative but somewhat unremarkable. This Colorado-based test was impressive enough that the nurse demanded my phone so she could take a picture.

Those middle rows pretty much say "grass is poison to you." The rest can be translated as "You're mostly okay with indoor allergens such as mildew and dust mites. You could languish away in a moldy basement for the rest of your life and be fine, but don't go outside!"

Anyway, the doctor agrees that I'm a likely candidate for allergic asthma that's mainly induced when I am exercising outdoors. He said it would be a good idea if I returned to using the maintenance inhaler I used from February to April, as well as a steroid nasal spray for my very bad nasal congestion. I'm glad to try these treatments as I believe they will help me feel better when exercising, although of course there are still many unknowns. I may not have asthma. For several reasons I hope I do, because although asthma can be a life-long disease, it is also treatable. What isn't necessarily treatable are birth defects like a patent foramen ovale (a hole in the heart, which one blog reader told me may effect as much as 20 percent of the American population, but who often experience no symptoms until they go to high altitudes, to which they'll never adapt), as well as lung scarring and other obstructions that can't be detected by an X-Ray (although my lung function is good.)

So ... there is hope! I recognize that I am quantifiably healthy and can't complain too much about this condition. Right now I am optimistic about medication, still looking into allergy shots, and also moving toward acceptance of working with whatever fitness I have if these treatments don't help. I also remain optimistic that mostly what I need is for summer to go away, and I'll quickly build strength the way I did last fall and winter (with relapses into asthma symptoms that I believe were directly related to respiratory illness.) There's still time to launch into "training season."

The plan is to get back on the bike tomorrow. Honestly I'm a bit scared of my bike right now — not only because of the weak arm/steering issue, but because you can't hide from more intense efforts on a bike. Running, you can always slow to a plodding walk if you need to, but keeping a bike upright on a steep hill requires a minimum of effort, even with a granny gear. It seems this minimum of effort puts me in the hypoxia cave. But yes, back on a bike tomorrow and most likely a long run into the high country this weekend.

I'm excited! Even if I am starting to think of summer the way other people view winter — an uncomfortable time to be endured until friendlier weather returns.


  1. Jeez....that allergy test pic looks HORRIBLE! (never had an allergy test, I guess I'm blessed cuz as far as I know I'm not allergic to anything...except maybe Monday Mornings at work. But I think 98% of the population has that one. Copious amounts of coffee help. As does 3 day holiday weekends.

    Glad to hear you're back on the safe and enjoy moving FAST again!

  2. Strong reactions. Keep a copy of the allergen report. That will be your baseline to compare to during desensitization.

  3. Your poor body. Ugh.

    (On a side note, if there were an allergy test for snow, my back would light up like yours did. Unlike you, I'm not a gigantic fan of that white stuff.)

  4. Your back is very impressive looking! No denying you have allergies. I think the allergy shots will be a good idea. Have fun on the bike and keep exercising that hand and arm so it gets stronger! I'll even do a few push ups in you honor today!

  5. Allergies suck!!! Flonase was a revelation this summer at our house. Not sure of the long-term efficacy or otherwise but we have a house full of allergy sufferers but have no bad attacks among us this year. And I usually lose a few weekends every spring and late summer where I just can't function due to allergies.

  6. Have you considered travel to the Southern Hemisphere during summer?

    I also suffer from environmental allergies mainly in the Spring and take frequent trips to areas that don't bother me as much. I usually go for about a week each month in March, April and May. This works great for me but my allergies are different from yours - I do well in the high desert and Hawaii. Maybe you could spend whichever is the worst month allergy-wise traveling somewhere more friendly. Maybe the high desert would work for you also? No grass! Just rocks!

  7. Hi, Jill. I also have exercise-induced allergies and I'm allergic to outdoor and indoor allergens. I did the shots for years but didn't have that great of results (hopefully you will fare better). I can also run 20 miles with little problem and then not be able to walk up the stairs in our house without stopping to gasp for air. What has helped more than anything is swimming. I'm assuming it has increased my lung efficiency but mostly it has taught me not to panic when I can't breathe. I know that sounds dumb but practicing to hold my breath longer than comfortable while swimming has vastly improved my asthma when I'm running. It hasn't cured me or given me miraculous results but it has taken away much of the anxiety and upped my confidence. I haven't had to use an inhaler in ages though I still carry one on longer runs.
    Hope you figure this all out. Not being able to breathe properly can be a huge pain in the ass (and in the lungs, too).

  8. If things don't improve, maybe one other easy option would be to try a maintenance inhaler with a different steroid in it? There are at least two or three commonly-used ones; maybe your body will respond better to a different one.

  9. Ouch! It looks like a coordinated mosquito attack. I hate to plug a drug, but when I went on montelukast once a day (Singulair?) my own seasonal asthma went into hibernation for the allergy season. I know when it's time to start taking it again... the old lungs start itching. Good luck, and thanks as always for the inspiration!


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