Cycling and Asthma – getting it off my chest.
I felt the need to write this, though it’s taken a while to post. There’s a stigma, cyclists with asthma get criticised.
I was diagnosed with allergic asthma after suffering an attack during the first two days of Transcontinental Race 2016. It’s the most common type of asthma. What happens to me is allergens, such as pollen (and many others), trigger a response starting in my immune system. They enter my lungs and irritate the passages in the airways which become inflamed and swollen. My breathing becomes shallow, I cough and wheeze. It feels like slow suffocation.
Since the first attack I’ve had several others, none critical but they’re no fun. I am now on three medications, having been through ten others trying to find something that works. I still haven’t found the perfect answer, I probably won’t.
I’ve learnt a lot as well about what’s happened to me. This year, so far, I’ve spent over 600 hours cycling. That’s typical of my last 5 years. When I train, my breathing rate is high and the air is often polluted and dry. I have found that there are side effects to what I do. On the one hand, I get really fit so I can compete. On the other hand, I’ve triggered allergic asthma.
It irks me that cyclists with genuine issues are criticised and their performances are questioned. Aspersions of unfair advantage are made. Do I enjoy having asthma? No! Do I wish I didn’t have it? Yes! Is it a total pain in the backside? Indeed! (Rant over).
This year, during the first day of Transcontinental Race 2017, I again suffered from allergic asthmatic difficulties. This time, with various simple medications, I could deal with it. The Salbutamol inhaler I carry provides instant relief and it was enough to move me from struggling to breathe to just about OK. I still didn’t feel normal; my breathing was shallow but I was able to keep going. Thankfully, as we moved from Germany into Austria, the allergens disappeared and my breathing got better.
My daily medication, Fostair and Montelukast, require no TUE. When I have an attack and my lungs just won’t respond to Salbutamol, then on a couple of occasions I have needed the corticosteroid Prednisone to stop the crisis. It’s a powerful drug (not something I enjoy having to take) with many side effects, and for competing cyclists it requires a TUE.
After completing the Transcontinental Race 2017, my lungs would not settle, I struggled to breathe normally and I was coughing a lot. I had a nasty tightness in my chest. I had completed the race on Salbutamol, Fostair and Montelukast. However, after a few days in Greece my breathing was getting worse. I went to a doctor who diagnosed that I was ‘having an asthma crisis’ and prescribed Prednisone. I soon felt much better.
So, when a fellow cyclist says they have asthma, just take a moment to try to understand how tough, and irritating it is for them to live with such a thing.
And the off chance they need stronger medication? Well, perhaps they really do.