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Managing Recurrent Chest Infections: Life as an Asthmatic
I would like to share some insights I have gained recently about self monitoring my lung health, in the hope that others may find it useful.
Typically, I tough through the sore throat and muscle aches with pain killers and just keep going. But within 7 days, what was a sore throat and felt "viral", would turn into a chest infection and become "bacterial". This required the usual pilgrimage to our Health Centre after incessant nagging from my wife, an examination with a GP and a course of Amoxicillin, which kills off the infection after about 2-4 days. It would then take a further 2 weeks to get my cough under control and even longer to get my energy back. The total process is typically 4-6 weeks, which leaves me feeling exhausted.
At Activ8rlives we have been working closely with our volunteers with Cystic Fibrosis who have been testing the Activ8rlives technologies. I started using our own Peak Flow meter to "road test" it before it was supplied to our volunteers. This proved interesting. My Peak Flow (expelled air) and FEV1 (measure of lung function) were pretty good for my age and weight. When I took my asthma medication the scores improved by about 15% within 1 hour. I was intrigued.
So I started monitoring my Peak Flow and FEV1 daily, as all asthmatics are supposed to, and started seeing the cause and effect of taking my medication in the prescribed way. Losing weight has also really helped me, with more room for my lungs as my visceral area is not full of fat and I am exercising on a daily basis. I started to see the connections and realised that taking my medication was a good thing to do, rather than a chore. I also discovered that when I went to London on business, my lung function dropped dramatically, perhaps explaining why I always felt so tired when I returned home after trips to the city - pollution perhaps exacerbating asthma symptoms.
In March 2013 I had a nasty cold and the usual pattern of infection ensued. I watched in horror as my lung function fell 20%, which was really noticeable on the Activ8rlives charts. Presented with the data, my GP agreed that antibiotics were needed despite not hearing chest sounds of infection. My usual recovery process ensued albeit a bit faster as I was fitter and healthier than in prior years.
Our lungs, like our intestines, are a complex and balanced ecosystem of bacteria that is necessary for our health. Asthmatics tend to accumulate mucus in their lungs and this gunk is a great breeding ground for bacteria.
What follows from this is: “Why does a "viral" infection turn into a "bacterial" infection in my lungs? Are the bacteria opportunistic and get a foothold because my system is off balance or are they always there lurking in the biofilm waiting for an opportunity to go crazy when I am at low ebb because of the viral infection? Who knows?”
Perhaps Next Generation DNA sequencing of the genomes of the bacteria in my lungs will give me the answer in the future as it is doing for people with Cystic Fibrosis. That would be cool but for the moment at least, this is a recurrent pattern that I have been through most of my adult life and it is tiring for me and my family, costly on the NHS and my Company.
Last week I picked up the usual "change in season" sore throat and decided to do something different. As the saying goes "If you always do what you have always done, you will always get what you have always got!" So this time, rather than trying to be macho and tough my way through it, I decided to carefully monitor myself AND really look after myself. I measured my lung function and upped my asthma medication to maintain performance levels. I rested during the day, went to bed early and really mollycoddled myself to give my body every chance to deal with the viral infection, without letting the bacterial infection get started. Admittedly, I had to endure the taunts from my family about suffering from man flu, but one week later I am on the mend. My energy is returning and I have no chest infection. I still feel a bit wiped out and tired but I have no chest infection and it meant that my recovery was faster by weeks.
Would this have been the outcome if I had done what I always did? Who can tell, but I am relieved not to have to go through the pain of weeks of coughing all night and the month long recovery that follows every bout of infection. Equally, I was desperate to avoid having to take steroids to reduce the inflammation of my lungs in their response to the infection.
Insight gained: Talk with your doctor and take their advice. If you are asthmatic, measure and monitor your Peak Flow and FEV1 daily. Learn for yourself how your medications work and how they work for you. While you are well, see what happens to your lung function with and without your medication and learn from the insights you gain. Keep yourself in the best shape possible and this means being active every day, eating well, maintaining a healthy body weight - all of these are deposits in the health bank. And if, like me, you suffer from recurrent chest infections, you never know when you need to make a withdrawal from your health bank to prevent a bit of "man flu" turning into a nasty lung infection that takes weeks to recover from.
For more information go to http://www.activ8rlives.com