By Christopher Cudworth
Another reader named Jim L. shared a difficult challenge: How do you deal with bronchitis?
Here’s what he wrote in response to the original question:
Bronchitis sucks! It’s tough to ride a bike when you’re dealing with bronchitis all the time. Used to be a 2 or 3 week spell out of my riding season but last couple of years it’s been an on again, off again problem. Now I’ve always had allergies and have been doing shots for years (20+ or so), but even though they are doing better the bronchitis has decided to rear its ugly head more and more. Despite fighting it most of the year this year, I’ve been able to get in about 1,300 miles of riding. For some that’s not a lot but for me that’s a little on the low side but not bad, and definitely not where I’d like to be. So with the allergy shots, couple of inhalers, Zertec, Singular and some over the counter antihistamines (that the Doc says works with the mix) at age 61 I’d still like to get ready to be able some year do back to back centuries in a charity even I normally ride.
Dear Jim L.
You’re right. Bronchitis really sucks. But it also blows, have you noticed? Generally bronchitis is the result of extended symptoms first generated by the common cold. But not always. As you’ve noted, any significant irritation and ensuing weakness of the lung tissue can lead to bronchitis. Once irritated, the lungs and bronchial tubes seem to go into a sort of spasm mode, almost like a pulled muscle. And it hurts.
The phlegm and all that crap that goes with it is actually your body’s response to the irritation or response to the infection. The resultant inflammation can be a bitch to manage. See, there’s this thing we call breathing that you can’t avoid. And lots of things make it worse.
Pollutants can make bronchial irritations more acute. As can asthma, so you’ve noted. Then there’s the documented relationship between asthma and allergies. You’re starting to get the picture. Irritation of the lungs can be a really difficult and complex problem. Running and riding can make it even worse.
You might be interested to hear what WEB MD has to say about bronchitis:
As the irritated membrane swells and grows thicker, it narrows or shuts off the tiny airways in the lungs, resulting in coughing spells that may be accompanied by phlegm and breathlessness.
The disease comes in two forms: acute (lasting from one to three weeks) and chronic (lasting at least 3 months of the year for two years in a row).
Bronchitis: It’s a bitch
Jim, it sounds like you have a combo of acute and chronic bronchitis from how long it has lasted. That means you’re in a cycle of treatment followed by recurrence.
Here’s the bad news first. Those medications? I know they feel like they’re a good plan and necessary. But I personally have suspicions about how much good they do over the long term. The layered effect of medications is really hard to manage and sort out. But like Tom Waits once said, “I’d rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy.”
That holds pretty true for over-the-counter medications. If you take them you have side effects. If you don’t take them you get sicker. This is known as a devil’s bargain, in which you lose one way or another.
So sick it was sick
I once got bronchitis so bad from overtraining that it produced severe migraines along with an ice cold hacking in my chest. The doctor prescribed Tylenol with Codeine for the headaches and my arms went numb. So I went to the hospital and got an x-ray that day, and it showed a huge gas bubble in my guts but the doc just said, “Go home and rest, son. You’re sick and need rest.”
So I ignored his advice. That night, I stayed out past midnight with my brothers at a bar called Mother’s on Division Street in Chicago. The whisky seemed to clear things up and two days later I was back running again. That was a sick way to get better.
The real treatment. Sort of.
The fact that you’ve been fighting allergies so long and that exercise seems to make your bronchitis worse shows that there is a likely relationship between your allergies (part 1) your asthma and inhalers (part 2) and your bronchitis (part 3). In other words, you’ve got a rolling set of symptoms that add up to chronic bronchitis.
Probably there is infection at work here too. Your tired little lungs are probably damaged from all that shit they’ve been through. So, is there a cure?
I once wrote online content for an interesting little company called AllergyAsthmatech. They sell a bunch of products to help you manage all types of breathing problems. I don’t have any commercial connection with them, but their products are interesting.
One of the problems I had with colds and bronchitis was forced air heating. The dry air always sucked out the moisture in my house and I got colds all the time. Now I live in a home with radiant heat and hardly ever get colds. Plus I take zinc tablets at the slightest hint of a cold. Preventing colds is the first step in combatting viral infections that take over your lungs.
But you might try a humidifier for starters. Like these. If your environment indoors is too dry and your allergies flare up as a result, perhaps it’s not the world outside that’s killing you. It’s your house.
There are all kinds of possible other challenges like pet dander or dust mites that cause chronic allergies. Maybe you’ve checked all that out over the years but in case you haven’t, going “back to the source” of your allergies can sometimes eliminate the chronic aspect of your bronchitis afflictions.
It might seem nutso, but perhaps you need to put a barrier over your mouth while you ride. If you are susceptible to allergens, this allergy mask might save you some trouble. You’ll just have to get a radical helmet to go with it.
It seems like you need to go Back To the Future to get to the origins of your bronchitis before you can effectively treat it. Then adopt strategies for long term management. That may include continued medication, but some of the effectiveness might have worn off over the years.
I no longer take any cold medications because I was told by my doctor the antihistamines mess with the old prostate gland, shutting down the pee business. And that ain’t no fun.
But it’s been 20 years since I took any, so I don’t know if that’s still true. An issue for another day.
Good luck and I hope this helps you deconstruct your bronchial issues.