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Sunday, November 8, 2009

Swimming and asthma

I've found something that bothers my asthma every time -- swimming. I can still do it, but I most certainly need to pace myself.

It has been written by many asthma experts that swimming is among the best exercises for asthmatics. When I was a kid I used to go swimming all the time. We had a neighborhood pool and a beach a mile from where we lived. Yes I had trouble breathing when I exerted myself under water sometimes, but for the most part I handled it pretty well

When I was at the asthma hospital in 1985 the asthma experts there had us asthmatics swimming at least three times a week. So even way back then (I make myself sound old here) the experts were recommending swimming for asthmatics.

I don't swim nearly as much as I used to, although I do take my kids for a swim in Lake Michigan from time to time since I live so close to it. And when we go on vacation I take my kids for a dip in the pool. Yet one thing that remains consistent: swimming makes me short of breath.

I stay physically active and I even run without having trouble with my breathing. I wasn't always able to run as I also have exercise induced asthma, although my asthma has not bothered me when I exercise lately. So this makes me wonder why it would be EIA causing my shortness of breath while swimming. Although this is a good possibility.

As my regular readers know by now I had hardluck asthma until a few years ago. I don't have trouble breathing throughout most of the day anymore. When I do it's usually mild and is resolved with a puff or two of that blue inhaler we call Albuterol.

Yet, despite what I write here, every time I get in the water my chest gets tight.

I guess I noticed it more on this vacation because I was in the water every day. And since my kids are older and now know how to swim I was actually able to do a little swimming on my own. And after that first time racing my son to the other end, I noticed my chest was heavy. I had to get out and rest. I didn't get all the way out, just sat on the top step with my chest out of the water. I doubt anyone watching had a clue why I was sitting there. I don't think I was obviously short of breath. I tried not to be obvious anyway.

While I usually can make it from one side of the pool to the other without coming up for air, I was only able to do this once and I was done. I had to sit and rest. I had to literally get my chest out of the water to get relief. And that's what made me wonder: was it the exertion under water that hit me (EIA), or was it the pressure of the water against my asthmatic lungs. Or was it the chlorine. However, if it was the chlorine then I wouldn't get short of breath while swimming in the Lake, and I do.

The next day I went under water and was fine until I challenged my son to another race. I was able to beat him a second time, but that was while dealing with a tight chest and taking in only what felt like 3/4 of a breath each inhalation. I wasn't completely miserable by no means, but there was definitely some discomfort.

The next day I decided I was just going to put my chest under water and not exert myself. I wanted to see if just the water pressure alone would make me short of breath. Well, I'm not the kind of person to just sit still, and after a few minutes I was tossing my 11-year-old into the deep end so he could have his fun. Then my 6-year-old wanted to get into the action. Before long my chest was tight. Yet I continued to toss my kids for some time. Eventually, though, I knew it was time to quit.

Now I have to add that the shortness of breath I got by being in the water was not relieved by my bronchodilator. In fact, after the first few times I decided not even to bother using it. It was the kind of shortness of breath that you had to wait out. If you have asthma maybe you know what I mean. I wasn't sick enough to panic because I had been here before. I JUST KNEW I would be fine if I just waited it out.

But I didn't want to wait it out. I wanted to swim some more with my kids. So I did. My son mentioned something about this to me about the fifth or sixth time we went into a pool. He said, "Dad, why is it that every time we get into the water you race me less and less?"

Well, I didn't want to bother him with my problems. I wanted him to be having fun. And I had a great time too. I knew that once I got out of the water with the kids and rested a while I would be fine. I knew my asthma was controlled enough (I'm a gallant asthmatic) that I'd be perfectly fine within 10-15 minutes post water.

This turned out to be true every time. I'm telling you, it's an awesome feeling and a comforting feeling when you know your asthma so well you know exactly what you can and cannot do based on the type of shortness of breath you experience.

(Believe it or not there are different types of shortness of breath; different feelings you get in the chest. This is a topic I think I will take up in another post).

And the type of shortness of breath I was feeling was one I knew I would be fine once I rested. It's power I suppose. It's power over myself. It's vigilance. If you have asthma as long as I have you know what I mean. After a while you just know yourself; you know your asthma; you know exactly what works and what doesn't; you know exactly what to do and when to do it.

It's also an awesome feeling as you slowly but surely notice the pressure in your chest giving way, and the air getting deeper and deeper into your lungs with each breath. And all of this without taking one puff of your rescue inhaler. In a way, it creates (I wrote about this before) a feeling of euphoria. Likewise, it creates an appreciation for breathing. You experience this once and you'll never take breathing for granted again.

Swimming is fun and I'm going to do it again next chance I get. And you can bet I'll be holding my breath the length of the pool, or doing laps. You an bet that some day soon I'll be wrestling with my son under water, or tossing my kids into the air and watching them giggle while they splash in the water. It's fun. And no asthma beast is going to take away this fun from me.
Another thing I wonder is if I swam every day if my lungs would get even stronger and these episodes of shortness of breath due to water immersion would cease.

See I'm curious this way.


Michelle said...

Funny you should mention about swimming and asthma. I've had asthma since I was a child, but had been lucky that when I was a child through to my teens where it'd only bother me when I got really sick. However, after I got really sick about 5 years ago, it was never as good as it used to be.

I had a swimming course last year in university and every time we did swimming I noticed I had a much tougher time with my asthma than when I did when I was doing other sports. I think for me it was the pressure. I always found it difficult to breath when I submerge my chest under water.

Just to share your joy, it does feel great when you know exactly when you're pushing yourself too much, exactly when you're going to get an attack and whether or not it'll resolve on its own. Although I know I should be more careful, I like to push myself hard when I train, sometimes very close to the edge between an attack and the joy of expanding my boundaries.

I accidentally found your blog today, and I enjoy your posts, keep writing :)

Rick Frea said...

You word that well -- very well.

It's always need to find poeple with similar asthma experiences. Hope you stick around.