February 21st, 2008

lung tech.

I, like many nerds and athletes before me, have suffered from asthma and lung problems for almost the entirety of my life. I don't have the blue-in-the-face, bronchial-spasm, send-me-to-the-hospital variety. Rather, I have a seemingly constant irritation and periodic, primarily exercise-induced, restriction of my airways that mostly just slows me down. This is actually caused by a poor immune system reaction to airborn allergins. Exercise triggers attacks because as much as 10x more air is moving over your lungs so they're likely to get 10x as irritated.

In any event, this hadn't been much of a problem for me in seattle, except when I lived in a very moldy old house. However, after moving to hawaii something started really bothering me. My training started out great but after a virus I found myself unable to significantly exert myself for longer than 5 minutes or so. I went to the Dr but wasn't satisfied with their diagnosis so I bought myself a peak flow meter, blood oximeter and a few other gadgets. and so the nerding began.

The peak flow meter is really the most interesting. This measures, in liters/minute, how rapidly you can force air through a constrained passage. It's just a tube you blow in with a column and a gauge. For someone of my height and age a 'normal' peak flow rate would be around 600 l/m. My actual measured flow rate very regular at 675 l/m, so 112% above predicted, not bad! However, 5 minutes of vigorous exercise on a stationary bike and that had dropped 20% to 540. A 20% reduction in the rate your lungs move air is enough to perceive as constricted and tight. Interestingly I'd still be considered in a healthy flow range, and indeed I could rest and talk and walk just fine, I just couldn't ride my damned bike. The blood oximeter also showed a 5% drop in blood oxygen saturation during the constriction.

Armed with these findings I asked for a maintenance drug, advair, which has a corticosteroid to reduce inflammation. And indeed, 3 days after starting this treatment, my peak flow now measures around 775, or 13% better. This would be better than the average flow rate for a 6'8" male. And hopefully now after missing the first two races of the season, my training can begin again in earnest.

And the moral of the story is; You can never have enough gadgets.